I’ve been a SF fan since I can remember; I was amazed by Clarke’s Rama Cycle (read that even before I read his Odyssey novels) in primary school, and was enthralled when I watched Enemy Mine – Clarke’s series’ of novels about the strange object that enters our solar system and the awesome movie in which a human and an alien must try to survive with each other’s help despite the fact that they are at war planted seeds in me that buried themselves deeply – of which I’m very glad. But SF is very difficult to pull off well, whether done in a novel or a movie or a TV series… It’s a genre that can very quickly lose whatever it is trying to convey by putting too much focus on either the SF-ness of the tale, or the human angle of the tale. It is only when that exquisite and delicate dance of balance is achieved that SF will blaze like a gamma burst, and there are so few people who have achieved being able to move themselves -and by extension, us- along the steps in that dance that it explains why SF is, to too many people, still only aliens and spaceships.
What I’m trying to say here is that Colin Harvey knew the steps. He knew how to dance.
Winter Song opens with a bang – Karl Allman is attacked, his Ship is destroyed, and though he manages to escape he finds himself on a planet that not even the extensive records he had at his disposal could tell him much about. From there the tale settles as more is revealed about the world he has reached, the people who live there, their culture and beliefs, until Karl makes a desperate bid for freedom that could result in the biggest, best thing he could have ever done with his life.
In this one novel (Winter Song is a standalone novel) Colin manages to plunge us into not only really interesting SF-worldbuilding (the backdrop of Karl’s world before his Ship is destroyed) but well thought out and plausible culturebuilding; and as the world and the universe blossom around the reader, he brings onto the stage some truly memorable characters, too. There is action in this novel, too, but suitable action, no overwhelming explosions and intricate setpieces that razzle and dazzle. The relationships between the characters, and between the characters and the world they live in, is at once true and wonderful and sad and liberating; there is a sense of going on a journey with the characters, not witnessing the journey. Colin took a major chance bringing the novel to a close as he did, but upon further reflection it is the perfect ending, and ending that emphasises just how damned good this novel is.
If you’re looking for intricately designed alien cultures, vast space battles, black-hole surfing or lasers, you won’t get it in Winter Song – it’s the kind of novel that explores what SF can do and even perhaps what SF means by staying closer to home, even as it takes place on a planet very, very far away, and it’s a novel that deserves to be read and re-read and re-printed for many, many years. It’s a novel that will make you sad that Colin Harvey is no longer with us, but at the same time, it’s a novel that will stamp his name into the Mt Olympus of SF – at least, I hope so. Because it’s a damned good novel that brought back that sense of holy-freaking-hell-this-is-awesome that only incredible SF has managed to make me feel.
9 / 10
To order Winter Song, click here for Amazon US, here for Amazon UK, and here if you’re in South Africa (just don’t take the blurb on the site too seriously – sounds like a completely different book!). Don’t forget to head on over to Angry Robot – you can also browse their eBooks store and get yourself not only Winter Song and Damage Time (Colin’s two Angry Robot novels), but plenty more. :-)
Until next time,