Star Hunters, Jo Clayton (1980)
Review by Ian Sales
After the events of Maeve, the preceding novel in Clayton’s nine-book series, heroine Aleytys has joined Hunters Inc, an interstellar mercenary organisation. She is still in training, however, when she is called to Head’s office and told that she has been requested for a particular job – despite the fact she hasn’t completed her training. The Chwereva Company, which owns the world of Sunguralingu, is having a trouble with a plague of telepathic rabbits – well, hares – which are sweeping across the land and eating everything in their path, and telepathically driving the back-to-the-land settlers either into “blindrage”, in which they slaughter each other, or mindlessness. The settlers, some of whom are empathic, have christened the intelligence they can sense driving the hares Haribu. And it is Haribu Chwereva Company have asked Aleytys to “hunt”.
She is partnered with Grey, the man who recruited her for Hunters Inc in Maeve, and now her ex-lover after twelve months of stormy relationship. They travel to Sunguralingu, and en route Aleytys finds herself telepathically linked with someone on the world. Manoreh is a watuk, a humanoid race with green skin prone to blindrage, and an empath – which makes him an outcast among his kind. So he has joined the Tembeat, an organisation that accepts empaths and is not anti-technology like the rest of the watuk. The watuk are also extremely sexist, and consider women inferior – so much so that not only will Manoreh not talk to his wife, but he is unwilling to accept advice or help from Aleytys.
Unfortunately, within a couple of days on arriving on the world, Grey and Aleytys’s cunning plan to track down Haribu has gone horribly wrong and they’ve been captured by the villain. Who turns out to be a Vryhh, one of the super-strong, super-intelligent, near-immortal, with mental powers, humanoid race of which Aleytys is a half-member. And the rabbit thing was actually a plot to entrap Aleytys.
Meanwhile, Manoreh learns to accept that women are equal to men, and his wife, Kitosime, turns their deserted homestead into a sanctuary for feral children, who, being empathic, were ostracised and so became “wildlings”.
In Maeve, the Diadem series made a welcome change in direction. Previously, the novels had been more science-fantasy than science fiction, and Aleytys was presented as a super-special snowflake with super-special powers, who, it seemed, in order to offset her abilities, was subjected to offensive sexual violence. Star Hunters continues on from Maeve in presenting Aleytys as a competent space opera heroine, very much with agency; and while in this novel, Aleytys has to contend with the outright sexism of the watuk, she’s certainly up to the job. True, she still needs to use her powers in order to resolve the plot, but they’re very much dialled back in this novel. In fact, the three disembodied intelligences who “share” the diadem with Aleytys even tell her they will no longer be at her beck and call, and she must now stand on her own two feet at all times.
Having said all that, the plot of Star Hunters is not especially satisfying. The initial situation is presented through Manoreh’s point-of-view, but the jeopardy feels somewhat manufactured. Which is not helped by Grey and Aleytys falling into Haribu’s trap almost straight away. Kitosime’s narrative is perhaps the most engaging, as she has nothing but her own low-level, and carefully hidden, empathy to help her – and yet she still succeeds. There are a number of threads in Star Hunters which carry over from previous volumes, and which remain unresolved in this installment. Still, there are four books to go before the series, so likely the story arcs will be resolve in later books.