|Robert J. Sawyer: Far-Seer|
Tor Books (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0765309742
The back of my copy of Robert J. Sawyer's Far-Seer (Book One of the Quintaglio Ascension) asserts that the spunky hero Afsan stands as an alien counterpart of Galileo, realizing his people's true place in the cosmos. But this assertion belittles Afsan. More than just Galileo, Afsan serves also as a counterpart of Columbus, the Wright brothers, George Washington, even Achilles. Keen observer, master hunter, nimble mathematician, Afsan prepares to lead the Quintaglios -- a race of intelligent descendents of Earth's dinosaurs -- out of religious superstition and into scientific progress.
To be honest, I didn't expect to like this book. How could any novel based on the saga of Galileo avoid long, tedious explanations of the movements of the solar system? Or stock scenes in which the "ears" sticking out from a planet suddenly make sense as rings? True discovery blows the mind. Recounted discovery, especially when the reader made the mental leap pages ago, makes for dry reading.
Never fear, Sawyer keeps the explanations of the workings of the heavens to an interesting minimum and intersperses them with adventures such as the hunt for a giant sea snake. The key scene in which scientific observations give way to fear for the future of the Quintaglio home world, locked in a losing battle with gravitational forces, occurs not in a solitary scholar's study but in a lively discussion between the young Afsan and the accomplished maker of telescopes -- the far-seers of the title -- Novato. Out of this discussion comes knowledge, yes, but also respect, renewed purpose and even love.
In a book whose characters are talking dinosaurs living on a world unlike our own, with rituals, instincts, and a culture vastly different than what we know, Sawyer accomplishes what science fiction at its best does so well: reflect the human condition. Astronomy does not drive this book; Afsan and his comrades do.
On the Quintaglio home world you meet Saleed, a gruff old astrologer with a secret; the priest Yenalb, kindly but prepared to kill for his beliefs; the crown prince Dybo, pompous but lovable; Cadool, a butcher who raises a revolution; and Keenir, a ship captain obsessed with the hunt for a sea snake. As Afsan's journey takes him from the countryside to the Capital City and out to sea, he learns that the hunt for scientific truth involves more than one dinosaur with a far-seer. His convictions will shake the foundations of government, society, religion and the earth itself.
Along the way, friends turn enemy, youth gains maturity, and political secrets see the light of day. Afsan, not my initial choice for a hero, still shows the reader all the best qualities of being human -- er, Quintaglio.
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