Windhaven is a human colony world which has more water than land. We aren’t told when it was colonised but its current state looks early 19th century and any advanced technology forgotten. There are a limited number of wing gliders and the few people who use them are passed down through family eldest children except…well there’s always one. Maris becomes a flyer but when her widowed mother re-marries and has a son when she dies in childbirth, Maris use of the wing gliders draws to an end when her brother comes of age. Interestingly, he’s less interested in flying than singing and Maris draws the problem to council where things are changed to allow opportunities for others to take place.
The second section in a book with still no chapters comes several years later with the forthcoming competition to decide which flyers deserve to keep their wings. Thngs are compounded for Maris, helping out at one flying school, when she is asked to supervise a returning Val. He has a big chip on his shoulder and not liked by anyone after a competition a few years earlier where his racing opponent died. Over the pages, Maris puts everything together and the undermining thing that traditional flyers don’t like upstart grounders coming up through the ranks.
For the third section, it is twenty years later and Maris has crashed on Thayos and has been seriously injured, breaking both legs and an arm. Her healer, Evan, also points out a head injury that has messed up her sense of balance that which she later discovers means she can no longer fly. Reluctantly, she hands over her wings and becomes an apprentice to Evan as a trainee healer and his lover. Meanwhile, the residence flyer, Tya, and the Landsman healer have been colluding in adjusting information to prevent the Landsman from going to war over a metal-laden island and been found out. The healer is hanged first and when Tya will suffer the same fate, Val comes and sees Maris to head a council meeting to prevent it, action has to be taken. The plan is essentially spoiler but a superb display of passive resistance held by the flyers who know that they have to unite if they are to survive.
In many respects, this novel written originally in 1981 is quasi-SF and had there been wing-gliders on Earth around the same time, say circa Leonardo da Vinci period, this novella trilogy, could have even be placed here. As such, I’m not sure if it actually qualifies as Science Fiction but it’s certainly not fantasy. Between them, George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle created an oddly intense novel. You want to put it down and take a rest but ultimately just keep going to see what happens next. Not precisely a classic but something on par with what you would have expected from the likes of Anne McCaffrey in the same time period.
(pub: Bantam Books/Transworld. 336 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-53549-8)