This short novella has almost more story in the hints and surrounds than on the page, but what makes the cut was enough to keep me interested. It’s a culture clash, power struggle, gay love story, which might sound crowded, but builds on each piece to form a compelling tale with a surprising twist or two.
The basic premise is post-galactic diaspora, a tiny group of survivors from a dying planet return to Earth. The plan had been for them to scope it out as an escape route for their people, but their world’s destruction begins before they get off the ground. Earth, however, is both healthier, and more occupied, than they expected. Their exploration turned survivor group is attacked by wolves almost as soon as they leave the temporary shelter of their sinking vessel.
While a surprise to the new arrivals, the reader has already met the werewolves. That’s not quite the right descriptor for the wolf-human hybrids, though. They were created in an attempt to survive the environmental collapse on Earth, running parallel to the ships that left to colonize the stars centuries ago.
We meet Hari, the other main character, in the opening scene as he navigates an uncomfortable power balance, setting a clear foundation for the conflicts and decisions to come. The current leader ousted Hari’s mother from the pack leadership over differences in philosophy some time ago. How the newly arrived two-legged beings are handled shows this, but it’s present in other situations as well.
Hari wants to learn more about the newcomers, but even he is not expecting how his encounter with Aldiss will affect him. Nothing comes easy to these two, and the attraction brings other parts of Hari’s life to a head.
The wolves have traditions and a culture with its own unique elements though they maintain an approximation of the same language. Where Aldiss grew up surrounded by technology, Hari’s people have an almost mystic connection to their planet and their ancestors. The contrast and the detail for both is part of what makes this seem like the tip of an iceberg as far as the world is concerned. Since it’s a novella, you probably guessed I could see places that might have been more fleshed out, but that’s also true of many novels. Nothing necessary felt skimped for all I would have enjoyed seeing more.
The author uses verb tense to separate wolf form from human form, something it took me a bit to pick up on, but once I figured it out, I could follow the changes better. Not my preference in approach, but it was a mild distraction in so much fascinating interplay. There is also an open-door encounter, but revealing this is not much of a spoiler for Hari and Aldiss because of where the scene appears. I would have called the novella a tragedy not a love story, otherwise.
This novella is about the mix that comes with any group of people. Whether among the new arrivals or those who shed their human form to survive the cold, there is a wide range of dispositions and biases that can change the path of a world…or two.
I enjoyed the culture clash and negotiation along with the recognition a united front is unlikely. As I said in the beginning, there’s so much to explore within this world that it left me full of questions more because the world caught my attention than because the story needed anything. The novella reaches a satisfying conclusion, and the author’s sure to find other tales waiting if he chooses to return.
P.S. This is an expanded and revised edition of the story released by Less Than 3 Press.