Tag Archives: In Conquest Born

The Wilding — a “so what?” sequel

For a moment it seemed like she hesitated. “There is a way,” she whispered at last. “A Braxaná custom you can invoke. I researched it. It’s called the Wilding. Do you know it?”

Title: The Wilding
Author: C.S. Friedman
Year: 2003
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Have you ever read a sequel and then asked yourself, simply, “why?” Indeed, that is the question here. Why did Friedman, seventeen years after writing the quite solid In Conquest Born, choose to follow it up with a piece of work that seems so weak compared to the original? Was it pressure from fans to write again in the same universe? Did she feel there was unfinished business to attend to? It doesn’t seem to me that there were any loose ends left at the end of the first novel. Was this simply an attempt to recapture past glory, or a nostalgic effort to revive a cherished accomplishment? Whatever the case, I’m sorry to say I didn’t care much for The Wilding. I know Friedman can write better than this, so it’s a shame she spent some portion of her energy on such an unnecessary and disappointing sequel.

I won’t delve into the details all that much. The story takes place a couple hundred years after the events of the first book. The Braxins and Azeans are still engaged in their perpetual war. Both societies have undergone some changes, but the basic situation is still the same. Except that the remaining telepaths have scattered to parts unknown and are now distrusted by everyone. One piece of the plot involves an Azean’s quest to find the hidden psychic community in search of a long-lost sister. Another piece involves a Braxin’s mission (the “Wilding” of the title) to find new genes to refresh the dwindling Braxaná genetic pool, and to avoid execution at the hands of his enemies. These two characters meet up and find their quests are leading them to the same place. Of course there are numerous other characters in the mix. There is much traveling, scheming, fighting, death, and general adventure. The end.

OK, I’m making it sound terrible, and it’s not, really. It’s just that I didn’t feel any of the spark I got from the earlier book. Nothing about this story made me feel it really needed to be told, and nothing about the way it was told really compelled my attention. The characters were less vibrant, the plot was clumsier, and the entire style was less stimulating. So to anyone out there who has read and enjoyed In Conquest Born, I’d advise against expecting the same quality level from this follow-up. As sequels go, I have to say I’ve read better ones.

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Revisiting an old favorite — Friedman’s In Conquest Born

The K’airth-v’sa — literally, “mate of the private war” — was as attractive to the Braxaná warrior as he or she was deadly. And it could be a woman. Yes, though years of male dominance had buried that fact. And if any woman deserved the title, this one certainly did.

Title: In Conquest Born
Author: C. S. Friedman
Year: 1986
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

conquestbornI don’t often re-read books because there’s too much out there I haven’t read yet, and I don’t like to spend time retreading old ground. I pulled this old favorite out for a re-read for two reasons. First, I hadn’t read it since back in the 80’s. I recalled it as one of my very favorites, but my recollection was becoming hazy, so I wanted to see how it compares to my memory. (As it turns out, it’s not quite the masterpiece I remembered from my teen years, but it’s still a very strong novel.) Second, I only recently noticed that Friedman wrote a sequel which was published a few years ago (The Wilding, 2004), so before reading that I needed to get back up to speed.

In Conquest Born is a tale of obsessive personal vengeance set against the background of a never-ending war between two divergent branches of humanity. Zatar is a Braxaná, one of the ruling class of the Braxin Holding. Braxin society is male-dominated, racially segregated, highly warlike, and regards cruelty and hatred as virtues, the softer emotions as disabilities, and barbarism as a desirable aesthetic value. The Braxaná are their rulers, a different racial strain that perpetuates an image of superiority over the masses. They have almost unlimited power — they can put ordinary Braxins to death on a whim, take over command of military fleets, or raze entire planets that oppose them. Their philosophy might be summed up like this:

We recognize that in man’s nature there is a drive to oppress others, be they truly alien or his own women. Perhaps the true measure of his power is how openly he can indulge in this.

Anzha lyu Mitethe comes from the Azean Star Empire, perpetually at war with the Braxins. The Azeans pride themselves on their egalitarian society with total equality between the sexes, so different from their enemies. The Azeans put more emphasis on the mind than on brute physical force; over the generations, through their understanding of genetics and a program of breeding, they have produced a small population of telepaths. This is one of their prime tools in the war, to the disgust of the Braxins, who see psychic ability as an abomination. As a child, Anzha witnesses the death of her parents, in a particularly gruesome manner, at the hands of Zatar. Her desire for vengeance will change the very course of the war. And she just happens to be the most powerful telepath to come along in a long long time.

The personal vendetta between these two is the fuel that drives the story, and it’s fascinating to follow the course of their rise to power as a means of pursuing it. Interestingly, they eventually come to feel more connected to each other than to others of their own kind. Both are misfits in their own way, trying to find a way to succeed in the societies into which they are born.

Those societies themselves are also an interesting study. On a surface level, Friedman sets them apart visually: the Braxins are white-skinned and dark-haired and of medium height, while the Azeans are tall, golden-skinned and white-haired. But it immediately becomes clear that these are not white and black hats to distinguish the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” These two societies certainly see themselves differently, but at heart they both fall prey to the same kinds of flaws. The Braxins openly practice discrimination based on sex, class, and race, but the Azeans are really no better. Azea long ago decided on their ideal physical form, and babies are genetically manipulated so as to match that ideal. In fact, it’s a requirement for citizenship — one which Anzha doesn’t match and must struggle against. Their practice of racial conformity is no less repugnant than Braxin practices. I suppose the point is that every culture has problems, no matter how self-righteously it views itself.

This is a very enjoyable novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the sequel has to offer. Friedman is a highly capable writer whose output has been less than I could wish for; but given a choice between quality and quantity, I’ll take quality, and fortunately Friedman provides it.

Top 5 imaginary literary works from science fiction

One of the best things an author can do to bring a fictional universe to life, to make it feel vibrant and real, is to give that universe its own literature — and even better, to quote from it. This seems to be common in science fiction, and it’s one of those little flourishes I’ve always loved. So here are some of my favorite imaginary literary works from science fiction. These are imaginary works I wish really existed so I could read them in their entirety, rather than in little bits and pieces.

The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan
Appears in: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Comments: I’d love to get my hands on this sarcastic, subversive, and ingeniously witty dictionary.
Excerpts:

SHALMANESER That real cool piece of hardware up at the GT tower. They say he’s apt to evolve to true consciousness one day. Also, they say he’s as intelligent as a thousand of us put together, which isn’t really saying much, because when you put a thousand of us together look how stupidly we behave.

POPULATION EXPLOSION Unique in human experience, an event which happened yesterday but which everyone swears won’t happen until tomorrow.

The Stolen Journals by Leto II
Appears in: God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert
Comments: The personal journal of science fiction’s deepest and most complex character? Who could pass that up?
Excerpts:

This morning I was born in a yurt on the edge of a horse-plain in a land of a planet which no longer exists. Tomorrow I will be born someone else in another place. I have not yet chosen. This morning, though — ahhh, this life! When my eyes had learned to focus, I looked out at sunshine on trampled grass and I saw vigorous people going about the sweet activities of their lives. Where… oh where has all of that vigor gone?

The singular multiplicity of this universe draws my deepest attention. It is a thing of absolute beauty.

The Rigors by Meridian
Appears in: Liege-Killer by Christopher Hinz
Comments: Paratwa uber-assassin Meridian shares his experiences ruling over those sniveling enslaved humans. He’s implacably ruthless, yet at the same time oddly charming.
Excerpts:

Dinner was not a very satisfying occasion for the humans that night. It was readily apparent that their digestion was being disrupted by the presence of Peter’s head on my table.
[….]
Peters was served for desert. The humans did not want to eat their companion but they also did not want to risk angering me. Their dilemma was intelligently solved. They ate Peters.
I made certain that all the other domiciles learned of our special confection. Peters had been served as a good object lesson.
He was also rather tasty.

The Birth of Braxi: excerpts from the later dialogues of Harkur the Great and Viton the Ruthless (author unknown)
Appears in: In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman
Comments: Philosophy for a physically- and martially-oriented society not afraid to embrace its dark side.
Excerpts:

VITON: These gentle emotions, what good are they? Love, compassion, amity; what purpose do they serve? To my mind they are socially invalid, obstacles to emotional efficiency. There is no more constructive emotion than hatred.

HARKUR: A man’s most sacred possession is his privacy of mind. Examine him, torture him, break him; still his thoughts are his own until he chooses to express them. This concept is one of the foundations of Braxin philosophy. Psychic ability, by its very nature, guarantees violation of this privacy. Therefore, we should not and will not tolerate it.

BuSab Manual (author/s unknown)
Appears in: Whipping Star, The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert
Comments: The Bureau of Sabotage exists to throw an occasional monkey wrench into the vast grinding machinery of government, to help keep it within bounds. This is their training manual.
Excerpts:

When the means of great violence are widespread, nothing is more dangerous to the powerful than that they create outrage and injustice, for outrage and injustice will certainly ignite retaliation in kind.

There are some forms of insanity which, driven to an ultimate expression, can become the new models of sanity.

The value of self-government at an individual level cannot be overestimated.