Aleph by Storm Constantine (book review).

February 18, 2021 | By | Reply More

After the recent death of Storm Constantine, it is probably the best time to take stock of her career. Her first books made the statement that she did not intend to follow conventions. Her characters, the Wraeththu, were the inheritors of Earth. They were hermaphrodites transitioned from young male humans by infected blood. The seven books featuring this race generated a vital fan following and spawned fan fiction. These were not her only books which included five collections of short stories. Immanion Press was conceived to bring back into print volumes that had got ‘lost’ in the original publisher’s warehouse system.

Always, Constantine has gone against gender stereotypes in her writing. ‘Aleph’ is no exception and is a sequel to ‘The Monstrous Regiment’. The planet Artemis was settled long ago by a society led solely by women, with men taking subordinate roles. Matriarchal societies are prone to the same failings as patriarchal ones and it is a problem of human nature. In the first novel, a rebellion against the tyranny of Silven Crescent, the only city on the planet, was successful but a contingent of the population that thought men and women should have equal status left.

They eventually settled to the north and have begun building a town they call Freespace and are running it as a collective. The rebels were helped by secretive members of the survivors of an earlier civilisation native to the planet. Close to the new town, Corinna Trotgarden finds a cave that appears to contain traces of the old Greylid civilisation. Separately, she and Farris Windteasel awaken whatever is hidden deep within the cave complex.

In Silven Crescent, the decision has been made to open up the planet and to re-establish contact with the rest of the universe. Zy Larrigan is sent to negotiate and look for suitable places to site holiday resorts. With two members of the council, he sets out in a flyer. While they are there to keep an eye on him, the two women are also collecting plant specimens. Normally totally reliable, the flyer inexplicably goes out of control and crashes. It is unlikely that they would have been found except that the entity in the cave gives Corinna a vision of the flyer crashing and the location.

Whatever it is in the cavern exerts a compulsive fascination on various members of the community, drawing them to it, promising them the things they most want.

The characters are complex, many of them having been shaped by events recounted in ‘The Monstrous Regiment’ or, in Zy’s case, the society they come from. There is an ease amongst all of them regarding sexuality. Zy, at home is in a three-way partnership, with both male and female. The way the colony on Artemis was founded meant that many of the relationships were same gender though, as in any society, not all of them were as equal or as healthy to the participants as we would like to believe.

One of the reasons for the Freespacers leaving Silven Crescent was to enable people to choose their partners without stigma, remembering that men were regarded as the inferior sex. This fits in with much of Constantine’s other work where gender is equally fluid.

This is a well-crafted book and, although it can be read alone, the politics are easier to grasp if ‘The Monstrous Regiment’ is read first. All her books are quality and it you haven’t experienced them yet, be prepared for excellence.

Pauline Morgan

February 2021

(pub: Immanion Press, Stafford. UK, 2012. 354 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907737-35-0)

check out website: www.immanion-press.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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