Leviathan’s Deep, Jayge Carr
Leviathan’s Deep, Jayge Carr (1979)
Review by Ian Sales
Jayge Carr was a pseudonym of Margery Krueger, who, between 1976 and her death in 2006, had published four genre novels and some fifty short stories. The SF Encyclopedia describes her as “not the most inventive of recent writers” but her fiction as “solidly crafted, well characterised and readable”, which is very much damning with faint praise. It was because of Carr’s story, ‘Webrider’, in Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years that I tracked down a copy of Carr’s debut novel Leviathan’s Deep…
And having now read it, I’m not inclined to disagree with the SF Encyclopedia’s characterisation of her work.
Which is not to say Leviathan’s Deep is bad. On the contrary, it’s a mostly interesting science fiction novel, and if it fails it’s not for lack of trying. The Kimassu Lady is a Delyene, a native of the water-world Delyafam. The Delyenes are amphibian humanoids and mostly resemble humans – except for their bright orange skin, lack of head or body hair, and having no navel. The Kimassu Lady, however, is a freak, and has pale colourless skin, which actually makes her beautiful by human standards. Though the cover art depicts Kimassu with breasts, no mention is made of them in the novel – and you’d have to wonder why amphibian humans would even require them. The Delyene society is matriarchal, with females more intelligent and much longer-lived, but far less numerous, than the males. Each female has a household of males, which they treat like chattel and will sexually prey upon. Kimassu is a torturer by profession and an expert on the Terrans who visit Delyafam and trade with the Delyene. The humans have imperialist designs on the planet, but are surprised at the Delyenes’ rejection of their longevity drug, which they have successfully pushed on other planets and subsequently brought the populations under their control.
The Kimassu Lady finds herself intrigued by a human male, Neill, who was caught in the forbidden precincts of the Goddess’s temple and brought to her for punishment. She chooses instead to learn more about humans from him, though this brings her and her noblelady sponsor into conflict with an anti-human noblelady. Kimassu hides Neill on a desert island, but is then captured by Admiral Gorky, who, it transpires, wants Neill, as the man is an agent of a rival interstellar empire. Kimassu is tortured, but Gorky falls in love with her and tries to make her his mate – and so Kimassu learns about human females and their treatment at the hands of their males.
It’s there that Leviathan’s Deep is at its least successful. The Delyene and their society are protrayed as the inverse of human society, but it’s a human society which has not existed for many decades. There are no female human characters in the novel because, it is implied, they are very much second-class citizens. It’s all very well commenting on gender roles in society through inventing a society in which the roles are reversed, but as commentary it’s only going to suceed if the original model is recognisable. This is further not helped by the human characters in the novel talking like the cast of a 1940s science fiction story – and Neill especially sounds like a clichéd Irish rogue from a bad Star Trek episode.
There are other problems. Shortly after Kimassu and Neill arrive on the desert island, he tries to rape her. He fails because while Delyene females are sufficiently biologically similar to human females to permit intercourse, they’re different enough in that they can choose to prevent sex. In fact, on Delyene rape is perpetrated by females on the males. Rape should never be treated lightly, and Kimassu’s offhand dismissal of Neill’s attempt, not to mention her own boasts of raping Delyene males, seriously undercuts the impact of any commentary the reversal might be trying to make. Later, Kimassu learns from Neill the advantages of an intelligent male, a male who can be a companion as well as a sex partner, and while she’s in no way redeemed by her love of a good man, the relationship does drift dangerously close to cliché. Happily, the plot then takes an abrupt turn and moves quickly away from any incipient mawkishness.
Leviathan’s Deep is told entirely in Kimassu’s voice, which Carr handles well. Kimassu is herself an interesting character and, while not entirely plausible, makes for an unusual perspective on what is pretty much a typical “noble savage turns tables on technological imperialists” story, a plot that is far from uncommon in science fiction. During Gorky’s imprisonment and enforced domesticity of Kimassu, she plays an innocent abroad, though the naivete often feels forced, and the episode seems slightly off since prior to it Kimassu had been brutally tortured by one of Gorky’s minions.
It seems to me that women sf writers are far better at writing alien points of view than male sf writers. Many have made a career of it, such as CJ Cherryh. Leviathan’s Deep fits well within that tradition, and like most such sf novels its alien voice is drawn with skill. However, it’s in the psychology of the human cast that Leviathan’s Deep chiefly disappoints. To be fair, it’s not an area in which science fiction as a genre has a very good record, so it seems somewhat churlish to complain about that aspect. In fact, but for the strangely old-fashioned feel to the human characters, Leviathan’s Deep would be a novel easy to damn with faint praise. Which is a shame, as it is indeed “solidly crafted, [mostly] well characterised and readable”.