The Luck of Brin’s Five, Cherry Wilder (1977)
Review by Ian Sales
Another science fiction novel that seems to have bounced from adult sf to Young Adult and back again. The Luck of Brin’s Five was published as adult sf in the US, but as children’s fiction in Australia (Wilder is from New Zealand). In truth, the book can pass as either. It’s a simple story, told simply, but its alien world is well-evoked and well-rendered. There are other sf novels less sophisticated than this that have never been considered children’s fiction or YA.
On the world of Torin, orbiting 70 Ophiuchi, the native Moruians organise themselves into family’s of five – three adults (either two male and one female, or two female and one male), an Ancient (the parent of one of the adults) and a Luck (a disapled person, either by injury or from birth). There are also usually children – the Moruians are marsupials, so some may be “hidden”, ie, still in the mother’s pouch. Brin’s Five – Brin, Mamor, Harper Roy and Old Gwin – have just lost their Luck, Odd-Eyes (so called because his eyes were different colours), to old age. But as they lay Odd-Eyes to rest, a spacecraft crashes into Warm Lake, and the Five manage to rescue its pilot. This is Scott Gale, a human male, one of four scientists studying the planet unbeknownst to the Moruians from their base on a distant island. The Moruians are humanoid – their chief differences from humans are larger eyes that stretch up to the temples, a slighter build, and less differences between the two genders (so much so that Moruians often can’t immediately tell the sex of another Moruian). Brin’s Five adopts Gale as their Luck, and gives him the name Diver.
Gale’s arrival, however, has not gone unnoticed. The Great Elder – the chief of the ruling council of five – manages to retrieve Gale’s spacecraft, but he also wants the pilot. Fortunately, Gale can pass as a Moruian if he wraps up well and he wears goggles. He also picks up the Moruian language very quickly (so quickly, in fact, that no one remarks on any accent or strangenesses produced by the human larynx). The Moruian society is peaceful, war has not been known for many centuries, and is technologically on the cusp of an industrial revolution. Some industrial processes are known, though most industries are still cottage-based and much of the population is agrarian. They do have flight, however – pedal-powered gliders, balloons, and perhaps even some steam-powered craft. Brin’s Five are weavers, pretty much country yokels, and at the moment of the social order. There are also townees, and an aristocracy, grandees.
Brin’s Five agree to take Gale to Rintoul, the capital, to meet the Maker of Engines, a Moruian scientist currently at odds with the Great Elder. En route, they discover an abandoned glider, Gale uses the batteries from some of his devices to power propellers on it, and they decide to enter it into the Bird Clan, an annual air race. Which Gale then wins. By this point, they’re making a poor effort at hiding their human Luck. And the Great Elder’s minions have made several attempts to take Gale from them. When the family does reach Rintoul, Gale is captured, a meeting of the council is held, but the Great Elder is defeated on a point of law, and Gale is allowed to join his family.
The story of The Luck of Brin’s Five is told by Dorn, the eldest of Brin’s Five three children. Perhaps this is why the Australian publisher chose to publish the book as children’s fiction. Certainly, Dorn is an unsophisticated narrator. But he’s also a clever choice, because he’s young enough to be happy to explain things he already knows to the alien Gale. The world of Torin may not be entirely convincing, but it’s one with bags of charm. Even the villains are nice. Despite a couple of violent set-pieces, Gale never really seems to be in much jeopardy – and even at the dénouement, the Great Elder backs down with suspicious ease.
But, for all that, The Luck of Brin’s Five is a breezy read. Novels set in alien societies and told from the alien point of view are difficult to pull off. Make the viewpoint too alien, and readers cannot sympathise; make them too human, and suspension of disbelief is lost. Wilder manages her balancing trick with ease and, not only that, even succeeds in making Gale seem somewhat alien to the reader. This is a light book, but quite a fun one. Although complete in and of itself, The Luck of Brin’s Five spawned a pair of sequels: The Nearest Fire (1980) and The Tapestry Warriors (1983). I am tempted to track down copies.