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29 January 2009

Lilith, A Snake in the Grass

Lilith, A Snake in the Grass
Jack L Chalker (1944-2005)
ISBN 0-345-29369-X
Rating: Buy, Hardcover, New

I rate this one a buy, but good luck with that, Lilith is unfortunately out of print. I even checked and while they have a few of Mr Chalker's books, Lilith isn't among them.

Lilith is the first in series of four books known as The Four Lords of the Diamond. Lilith was first published in 1981 & I first read the book in 1983. I recently stumbled over it in the basement at home, Mrs Bugbear probably put it there to encourage me to put some of my books in storage, or at the very least on a bookshelf. The best laid schemes o' mice an' wives gang aft agley (thanks Mr. Burns). I picked the book up and the pretty (faded) colours on the well thumbed hardback drew my eye and before I knew it I'd finished the first ten chapters.

Spoilers below.

Lilith is the story of an agent in a far future galactic confederacy. The agent's mind/personality/soul is copied and then written on four (at least) poor innocent unsuspecting convicted felons, destroying the felon's own mind. Written mostly from the first person perspective Lilith is the story of one the copies that is sent to an inescapable prison with a mission to assassinate one of his fellow inmates. Lilith is one of four worlds that the Confederacy has been dumping criminals on for centuries. The criminals have of course founded their own society shaped in part by the Warden organism. The Warden organism is a plot device created by the author to make the four Warden Worlds inescapable and as a palette of tools to shape the technology and society of each of the four worlds.

Mr Chalker uses the Warden organism throughout the book, on the world Lilith humans can to a limited extent manipulate the organism and thus influence their surroundings but not to the extent that they can leave their prison. The one thing that I appreciate is that Mr Chalker reveals the characteristics of humanity's interaction with the Warden organism well in advance making no use of a magic bullet to or new superpower to close the tale. Mr Chalker creates a consistent definition of Warden organism and adheres to it throughout the book.

I generally re-read books (being a bibliophile I'd go bankrupt from buying books and bookshelves) and it's interesting to see whether I glean the same degree of enjoyment now as I did twenty or more years ago when I last read it. In Lilith's case it's not the same enjoyment as when I was a teenager. As an adult I still enjoyed the book to a similar degree, but on a different level. That's the true test of good Sci-Fi for me, the book doesn't show its age but is still enjoyable.

A few general notes, I wouldn't categorize this as hard Sci-Fi, it's more social Sci-Fi, good characters, good dialog but not a real exploration of extending the science we know. As well, some of the "scientific" concepts Mr. Chalker uses are better explored in Web of the Chozen an earlier work by the author.

This book is one of many I've read from del Rey that they published during what I like to call del Rey's golden age, when Judy Lynn del Rey was the editor. Unfortunately, all golden ages come to an end and I don't find many of del Rey's recent offerings interesting enough to read. In del Rey's defense, they're still in business so their books must appeal to somebody, but their backlist appeals to me.

I've read many of Jack L Chalker's books and generally I've enjoyed them. Lilith is no exception to that generality, Mr. Chalker writes a good tale with good characterization and the plot although slow in spots keeps the reader's interest throughout. As noted above I'd rate this book a buy, in hardcover no less. If anybody reading this has an in with the people tell them to talk to Jack Chalker's widow and get the electronic rights.

Now I'm off to the basement to see if Mrs. Bugbear left any other hints that I should clean up my books, maybe I'll find one the sequels like Cerberus or Charon...or maybe something by Weber, or Heinlein, or Pournell & Niven or...OOHH there's a puddle of blood in the corner, must be a Ringo or Kratman book...

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