Book Review – Hunter’s Run by Dozois/Martin/Abraham
*This review is chock full of spoilers. You have been warned.*
Collaborative SF novels aren’t all that common, and novels by three authors are virtually unheard of. At first glance, this seems like an unlikely triumvirate: Dozois, the famous editor; Martin, the successful fantasy author; and Abraham, the newcomer. But at at the heart of this story there is something that every SF novel needs, and not that many have: a really, really good idea.
The idea goes like this. What if it an alien species could take a small part of a human being-a finger perhaps-and grow it into a replica of the original human? Would that replica be more like the original human, or more like the aliens that created it? Could you use the replica to hunt the original, given that it would share the original’s memories, desires and ambitions? That is the idea of “Hunter’s Run,” and it’s a beauty. At first, this does not appear to be an especially promising story. Basically we’ve got a fairly run of the mill SF future on what might as well be called ‘Mexico-world’ (the capital is Deigotown). And our protagonist, Ramon Espejo, is a whisky-quaffing, knife wielding, girlfriend-beating asshole. First we see him hanging around in a strange limbo world (a harbinger of things to come), and then we get to scene him in his ordinary life. Unfortunately for Ramon, he gets in a drunken fight which leads to the death of someone important, so he has to split for the wilderness.
And there’s a LOT of wilderness on this newly-colonised planet, so much that Ramon doesn’t feel he has much to fear from the relevant authorities. He might even make some money if he can find gold or something even better in the virgin hills…It isn’t long before he sets off a charge that accidentally causes a landslide, revealing a long buried alien structure. At this point my brain is screaming ‘cliche alert!’ but it’s okay-this is an interesting twist on an old motif. Some strange spinning thing comes out of the hillside in pursuit of Ramon. And then he gets captured, or does he? More on this shortly.
Somewhere in here we get the traditional SF ‘backfilling,’ in which, one way or another, we get some kind of narrative about what type of SF future we are inhabiting. In “Hunter’s Run,” there are various species of advanced aliens which use humans as kind of advanced recon teams, sending them out to backwater planets so that they can set up some infrastructure. Not exactly a new idea, but fairly refreshing nonetheless. In this universe, aliens are to humans as Americans are to Mexicans in our current time. And the fact that Ramon is both a human and a Mexican makes him doubly underprivileged. Hence his anger and frustration. This ‘backfilling’ goes across quite smoothly, because the authors manage to make the unfolding of this information relevant to the story’s main plot.
After Ramon’s encounter with the alien spinning thing, which destroys his ‘bubbletent’ and his ‘van,’ we presume that he has been captured and put in a dark void place. We get to see him awakening from this limbo and led through a strange and disorientating underground alien city. Incidentally, I didn’t think this undercity was done especially well, but no matter. It transpires that Ramon is to hunt for another human that has discovered the alien lair, and that he will be accompanied by an alien called Maneck. Even worse, Ramon is on a kind of ‘flesh leash,’ a bit like an umbilical cord. And so we get to the main narrative of the novel, which involves Ramon and the alien Maneck in pursuit of the unnamed human.
And then we get the really, really good idea, which elevates this from a fairly routine ‘B grade’ novel into something genuinely interesting. The man they are chasing is Ramon Espejo. What does this mean? It means that the character we have known as Ramon Espejo is in fact a duplicate, whom we discover has been created from the original Ramon’s finger (which had been severed in an earlier battle). The duplicate shares Ramon’s memories, but he is also partly alien, in that he has been spawned in some godawful vat. This is sophisticated and intriguing SF all of a sudden. And then we get into the complex world of motivations. What will the duplicate do? Should he sacrifice himself so that the ‘real’ Ramon might escape? Work together with him to defeat the duplicate’s captor? Or kill the original and replace him? The idea of clones or duplicates is not a new one, but I do believe that this is an original variation on the theme. And so the hero of “Hunter’s Run” is not the original Ramon, not the duplicate, but the main idea. A lot of classical SF is like this.
I won’t divulge any more of the plot, except to say that this is an interesting tale and one well worth reading. I still don’t think this is ‘A grade’ stuff, not really, but it’s pretty solid throughout. My main criticism of ‘Hunter’s Run’ is that the setting is overly generic, almost to the point where it’s irrelevant. But the plot is a ripper, and as such it gets the thumbs up from me.