The final volume in a prequel trilogy is always a big deal. Remember how the third 'Star Wars' movie got it so horribly wrong? Well, Alan Dean Foster was finally getting to the point, after no less than nineteen novels, plus a few short stories, set within his Humanx Commonwealth, where he could detail how it all came to be. How did humanity and the thranx finally come together and decide to team up? That makes 'Diuturnity's Dawn' an incredibly big deal.
I have to admit that I was worried, because 'Phylogenesis' and 'Dirge', the first two books in the 'Founding of the Commonwealth' trilogy, didn't really seem to set much up. They were isolated instances of coming together, apart in time by quite a substantial margin. How was Foster going to manage it? I have to say, thank goodness, that he does a pretty damn good job of it. This feels right, even though it takes a whole bunch of factors happening all at once to finally get us over the line. And that's fair.
Those factors show up on three different worlds, each of which constitutes a running narrative that gets to a crucial point.
First up is Hivehom, the thranx homeworld, where the human diplomat Fanielle Anjou is working tirelessly to bring the two species closer together with an official agreement, like a treaty. She's happy to be making progress but she feels frustrated by the slow pace by which the thranx deliberate and worries that the right moments will pass them by. So she figures out how to jump the line through use of a thranx custom and so get an official audience with the Eint Carwenduved to put her case.
Then there's Comagrave, a world formerly occupied by a race called the Sauun but now a deserted planet full of ruins. A team of human exoarchaelogists is investigating and are starting to get somewhere. There's a massive monument called the Mountain of the Mourners, where twelve huge statues look out over a valley at a particular escarpment. That's where they're excavating, on the advice of the AAnn, who are also present, calling the planet Vussussica and claiming it for themselves. To complicate matters yet further, there's also a thranx scientist present, Pilwondepat, so the work is tense.
Finally, there's Dawn, where progressive representatives of both humans and thranx are hosting a massively promoted Humanx Intercultural Fair, in order to introduce each species to the culture of the other. After all, getting to know each other in the same space will surely move things forward, not least because the thranx smell so good to us and are so easy to get along with. It also holds a great opportunity for those who really don't want us to all get along and there are terrorists present from both sides to sabotage things in any way they can, including through detonation of powerful bombs.
Of course, we know full well what the end result will be because we've read so many books set in the Humanx Commonwealth and this book is the last in a trilogy entitled 'The Founding of the Commonwealth'. There's no way it could end any other way, but how we get there is important and I frankly loved the irony that one way we get there is through rival terrorist groups teaming up to serve the common purpose of hating each other.
Let me run that by you again. Beskodnebwyl is the thranx terrorists' leader and Elkhannah Skettle is that of the humans. They hate each other's guts in every way but they want exactly the same thing so they actually agree to put their differences aside so that they might never have to see each other (or any member of each other's species) ever again. That's priceless.
Without trying to spoil anything, I should mention that violence inevitably becomes a factor on Hivehom and Comagrave too, but in very different ways. I like how Foster put all these pieces together, because they're not all what we might expect, not least because of the wildcard that is the AAnn. They're on Hivehom too, as a diplomatic mission, though they're barely tolerated by the thranx who know exactly who they are and what they do, from experience.
It can't be a surprise to many that one way that humans and thranx will come together is against the AAnn. We just haven't seen a trigger for that until this point. While the thranx have many bad shared experience with the AAnn, humanity hasn't and many are looking at the possibility of an alliance with the AAnn Empire rather than the thranx. After all, they're bipedal reptiles so they're a lot closer to us in many ways than giant bugs and they're being incredibly helpful on Comagrave.
What's more, there's another wildcard in play, which is the United Church. I wondered why this hadn't been pushed much in the prior two books. Now I get why and the use to which the Church is put here, through the involvement of an unlikely pair of padres, one human and one thranx. While they officially have a booth at the intercultural fair on Dawn, they spend the majority of their time wandering around the fair chatting to people. I loved the scene where representatives of the Unity of Traditional Religion meet them and get all upset at how calm and happy the United Church padres are.
Beyond being impressed at how well Foster wrapped up his prequel trilogy, a crucial factor to this book's success, I was also impressed at how much else he managed to shoehorn into this story without it ever seeming over-crammed. After all, it's told in three farflung locations, each with its own batch of major characters. One involves the interaction of two species, another three and the third four, if we count the Saunn, whose story is being uncovered.
I do wonder about the morality of the Comagrave story, which I will be very careful not to spoil. While the stories on Hivehom and Dawn unfold well, I'm not going to pretend that I was much surprised at how they unfolded. I was a long way away from how things unfolded on Comagrave and I'd love to discuss the ramifications of them with other fans.
Having finally caught up with this crucial prequel trilogy, I know much more about the Humanx Commonwealth than I did, but there isn't a lot left for me to discover now. Foster has currently written nine more Commonwealth books, but seven of them are Pip & Flinx books that I've already read. That leaves just two standalone novels left, 'Drowning World' and 'Quofum', so they will be the next two months for me. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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