This chapbook is three short stories by Coatsworth, whose SF and fantasy draw heavily on the soft SF of the 1970s and 1980s. Coatsworth is a personal friend and this reviewer read two of the stories in various versions before publication.
Tharassas, the Earthlike planet of these stories and the new novel The Dragon Eater, was settled two lifetimes before the first story, “The Fallen Angel”. It is home to a white racial colony who by this point have nonwhite people among them thanks to the “angels”, the slower-than-light star travelers who find mates and families on this planet (and others). The colony lives off a crop of “hencha”, a plant with intelligence of its own. Narratives of winter storms remind the reader of life in Arizona and California, where Coatsworth lives now. The nonwhite “differs” leave the racist community and found a new society in the wilderness, the “ce’faine”. (Notably, Coatsworth pays careful attention to language in this book, though there isn’t a fully developed conlang here. The names with apostrophes recall Anne McCaffrey’s Pern).
The second story, “The Last Run”, brings another “angel”, Sera, to Tharassa, on the last starship that Earth will ever send. Sera’s wife dies en route and the starship crashes, leaving her to deal with a colony’s virulent racism and her newfound attraction for local gal Jas’Aya, who harvests hencha amidst the failing technology of the colony world, and can communicate with the alien plants. The bond between the farmgirl, the stranger, and the plants resolves the story.
The last tale is one which Coatsworth has edited several times in different versions. In the current iteration, “The Emp Test”, a young ‘Steader’ is injured and convalesces in the hands of an enemy tribesman, who is sworn to silence. The imagery of grasslands and mountains again recalls the American Southwest, Coatsworth’s home, and this setting seems very real. The ubiquitous hencha figures in this story as well, as does the psychic ‘emp’, a creature which creates a mindlink. This story is more a romance than the other two are.
Tales from Tharassas is a light introduction to Coatsworth’s fiction and will appeal to fans of McCaffrey, Lois McMaster Bujold and James Cambias. Coatsworth’s attention to real science and his commitment to causes of equality and justice are evident here as throughout his work. Recommended.
Well, now I guess I have to track down some of Mr. Coatsworth’s work!
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