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by Emily Devenport
Roc, 330pp
Published: 1996

I'm really digging the novels of Emily Devenport, which I'm exploring at the rate of one per month, and that's not only because they're always agreeably different, even when she's treading familiar ground. And four books in (plus the latest), I'm already figuring out some of that recurrent territory.

For a start, all Devenport's protagonists seem to be young ladies who want to escape something or somewhere. This time around it's An—the number of syllables infer status, so An is a nobody, presumably one of many to bear that name given the laws of mathematics, while Mohamonero, whom we meet later, is most emphatically somebody—and she lives in TradeTown, an obscure place in the Badlands of the planet Storm, so named for a very good, if completely obvious, reason. Like 'Shade' and 'Larissa', the early scenes involve An leaving home, doing what she needs to do to survive on the road and ending up at a spaceport.

This first chunk of story is written beautifully and evocatively, as An rides caravans to Desert Center, avoiding the F type sun and the Vorn, if any happen to be left—war is still officially on, if usually long a way away—before walking through the desert to the spaceport. She does get to spend one night in a hostel, at least, where she meets a couple of marines and helps to kill a Vorn queen—how's that for memories?—but mostly it's just the desert, which amazes the people she meets when she walks out of it and into civilisation at the spaceport, especially as she's only fifteen years of age.

I should mention that there are also GodHeads in the Badlands, quiet but apparently infallible seers, courtesy of a mysterious plant named Godweed. Devenport is a dab hand at throwing wild and wonderful concepts into her novels at odd places. In some instances, they have clear relevance to the story at hand, but, in others, they have no purpose except to add texture, the novels better for such memorable snippets of background. One GodHead takes the time to prophesise for An, but all that he says is, 'I'll pray for you.' That's telling.

I should also mention that, while most of the first fifty or so pages are taken up by An's journey, they're just flashback. As the very beginning highlights, An is actually in her Egg, about to crash onto the planet of Cabar 4 because someone, presumably her boyfriend Jo, sabotaged it. Talk about a cliffhanger right off the bat! We are introduced, eventually, to Jo in the flashbacks; she meets him and others at the spaceport, where she's gradually moved in mindset to becoming one of the EggHeads of the title.

There's a great scene where An's walked down the lot, as it were, looking at different spaceships that shrink in size the further she walks. By the time she gets to the very end, she's looking at Eggs, fully functioning ships of diminutive stature, little more than personal capsules for one. An Egg is all she'll be able to afford, eventually, and it's in an Egg that she comes alive. She's obviously bright and talented but she's never had a purpose and it feels damn good when she finds one as an explorer, seeking out relics of the Earlies, an advanced but long gone civilisation who left behind glyphs that are highly sought after for the amount of information they contain. By the time An lands on Cabar 4, she's forty years old, an experienced EggHead treated with rejuve tech to be only twenty-five and benefitting from an RNA drip that gives her the knowledge of dead linguists so she'll be better able to read those glyphs.

Given that this is an Emily Devenport novel, though, it's never going to just be about the search. Beyond young ladies escaping their pasts to discover their futures and technology that makes people younger, there are other common themes already defined a mere four books into her career. There have to be aliens who are sentient and humanoid but larger and more powerful than we humans. Here, they're the X'GBri, because Devenport must have read Alan Dean Foster and felt that all his unpronounceable alien names were a pretty good idea, and they're notably dangerous. Sex has to show up soon as well, though here it's combined with another Devenport staple, namely rape. Instead of the usual consensual inter-species sex, one of the X'GBri that An meets on Cabar 4 has every intention of raping her, even when her boyfriend shows up.

I have no idea why rape is such a common factor in Devenport's books, but part of it may be because every one that I've read thus far was obviously written by a woman because men just don't know how it feels to be under threat 24/7. There are so many passages here that would feel overdone to men before they understood what Me Too was all about but guiltily realistic afterwards. An escapes Le's pregnancy trap in TradeTown, overhears the marines' conversation about her, assumes sexual ramifications in job offers and, yes, has to deal with imminent rape by the X'GBri on Cabar 4. Devenport's writing makes me wonder if this sort of thing was in other books I read by female authors decades ago and I just never noticed.

I've enjoyed each of Devenport's books more than its predecessor and that holds true with this fourth one, even though I had a couple of problems with it. The ending seems cheap to me, as if the author had built up so much wonder that she didn't know what to do with it all and so conjured up an easy way out. The other is the way An forgives Jo for sabotaging her Egg in an attempt to murder her in cold blood. It isn't the sort of thing that many would forgive, period, but An seems to forgive far too quickly and far too easily for it to be believable for me. I especially find it difficult given everything I said in the previous paragraph. I don't get how Devenport can say, fairly through often background details, that women are sexually harrassed all the time and raped at least once per book, and then have the female lead forgive her boyfriend, just like that, for trying to kill her.

While I enjoyed 'EggHeads' more than 'Scorpianne', which I enjoyed very much indeed, those two flaws suggest that it's not a better book. It's just that Devenport's prose keeps getting better and better and it brings a wilder sense of magic to this novel than previous ones. I can't wait for the next one, 'The Kronos Condition', even if, at this point, I'm expecting it to feature a young lady who escapes from somewhere, only to get raped on the way to discovering who she really is. After all, if trends continue, it'll be written better than this one and I'll enjoy it more, even though I can still heartily recommend everything that came before it too. ~~~ Hal C F Astell

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