Ghosthunt, Jo Clayton

Ghosthunt, Jo Clayton (1983)
Review by Ian Sales

Ghosthunt is the seventh book in Clayton’s nine-book Diadem series. The heroine of the series is Aleytys, an unsophisticated, and extremely beautiful, young woman from a low tech planet who becomes the inadvertent wearer of the Diadem, an alien device which contains the consciousnesses of three previous wearers. The Diadem also gives Aleytys psionic powers. After several books in which Aleytys was sold into, and then escaped from, sexual slavery, she now works for Hunters, Inc., who do exactly what their name implies – part-mercenary, part-private investigators, part-recovery agent, and very expensive. She also has a son, who is with his father on her home world. She knows the father hates her, and suspects her son will be raised to do the same. Except her son is not with his father…

Hunters, Inc. are contacted by the management of the Company resort world Cazarit. Several people have been kidnapped from it, and the world’s security has been unable to determine the perpetrator. Worse, they have an upcoming party of rulers from the Aghir, and they think the kidnapper will target one of them. Aleytys is reluctant to take the case, but thinks she detects the hand of an old friend in the kidnappings and so signs on, providing she gets to choose what happens to the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, Lilit, teenage daughter of one of the Aghir lords, is about to be married off to another lord. She hates her intended, her father, and pretty much everything about her world. It is a cruel place, in which the rulers live in luxury while those who mine the metals which have made the worlds wealthy live in poverty in a barely habitable alien ecosphere. Lilit is keeping a diary, and her writings in it explain her world and how she came to secretly join a rebellion against her father and the other lords.

Aleytys arrives on Cazarit, with her boss’s daughter as assistant, and immediately begins browbeating the local security staff into giving her full access to everything. They’re reluctant because their failure reflects badly on them, but she can’t figure out who the kidnapper is before he strikes unless she go where she needs and see what she wants. This turns into a guided tour of Cazarit, with its many islands, each of which is dedicated to a different type of entertainment – one for gambling, one for cruelty, one for drugs, etc.

The kidnapper is indeed Aleytys’s old friend Stavver, and he has her son with him and is teaching him the trade. Meanwhile, Lilit has decided to be a suicide bomber, and she will detonate the bomb hidden in her wedding finery at the celebration on Cazarit when she is presented to the lords of the Aghir and her new groom.

Aleytys quickly uncovers how the previous victims were kidnapped – the highly technological security team had looked for flaws in their system, and found none. The kidnapper pretty much climbed over a fence. They had not thought to look for such a low tech approach.

The plot takes its time getting to the climax, but when it does reach it everything goes pretty much as expected. Aleytys’s powers are dialled back in this novel, only making an appearance as and when required to help her do her job. Even her companions inside the Diadem – only two of them, as one has taken over another man’s body, as detailed in the previous book, The Nowhere Hunt – only pop up once or twice in the narrative. If Ghosthunt feels more like heartland science fiction than earlier books’ peplum space opera, there are plenty of flashbacks to remind the reader of Aleytys’s brutal past. And, of course, the worlds of the Aghir are equally brutal – I shall never understand the appeal of such societies in science fiction. Ghosthunt feels a more cosmopolitan novel than previous ones in the series, and the badinage between Aleytys and her assistant almost a faint tinge of Heinlein to it. Of course, she is still a super-special heroine with super-special powers, and they have a tendency to overwhelm the plot, which is likely why Clayton dialled them back in this novel.

Ghosthunt is one of the better entries in the Diadem series, though none of them can ever be called classic science fiction. It was followed by The Snares of Ibex and Questor’s Endgame.

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The Nowhere Hunt, Jo Clayton

nowhere_huntThe Nowhere Hunt, Jo Clayton (1981)
Review by Ian Sales

The Haestavaada are desperate. They are an insectoid race, and one of their worlds is without a queen. A juvenile queen was sent from another Haestavaada world, but it was intercepted by enemy insectoids the Tikh’asfour, and the ship crashlanded on the world of Nowhere, which is currently travelling through the Zangaree Sink. This last means the okanet, a primitive planet, is hard to reach, and high technology won’t work on its surface. Three ships of Scavengers have already landed on Nowhere, and the Tikh’asfour are preventing anyone else from approaching. So the Haestavaada hire the Hunters of Wolff and ask them to assign Aleytys to retrieving their missing queen.

Roha and Rohit are non-identical twins and members of the Amar, Nowhere’s native race. Roha is the Dark Twin, she has some sort of magical connection with the planet, mediated by frequent ingestion of a local hallucinogen. She’s not happy about the arrival of the crashlanded Haestavaada and their queen – she calls them “demons” – or the Scavengers – she also calls them “demons”. She persuades the warriors of her people, led by Churr, to do something about it. So they trek into the Mistlands, where a nasty death awaits the unwary – thanks to hidden pools of quicksand, thin skins of rock over boiling hots springs, poison bushes, bushes that fire poisoned seedpods, the piranha-like Kinya-kin-kin, floating ghosts and the Mistlanders. The Amar attack the downed Haestavaada but are beaten off, suggesting the trek was more to introduce the Mistland’s perils to the reader than because the plot required it.

Then Aleytys is parachuted in – literally, she reaches the planet’s surface in a small capsule launched from a ship in orbit, in order to avoid the Tikh’asfour. Immediately after landing, Aleytys allows herself to be captured by the Scavengers. She allows herself to be beaten and raped by the Scavenger leader, Quale. But it’s okay, but she’s letting him do it. She needs the Scavengers to do the heavy-lifting, to fetch the queen and then escape in one of their ships with her. However, the Scavengers have been on Nowhere for a few weeks – the book’s chronology is hopelessly confused – and have yet to find the queen. They’re also being picked off one-by-one by the Amar.

Fortunately, Aleytys knows where the queen is and can guide Quale and his men through the Mistlands to her. As a prisoner, however. And the Amar are hovering around the edges, still picking off the Scavengers. It takes them three days, and by the time they reach the crashed Haestavaada spaceship, less than half of the two dozen Scavengers who started out have survived. Aleytys persuades the stranded aliens to go along with her plan and pretend to accept Quale’s help – even though it’s clear Quale plans to sell the queen to the highest bidder. But on the return to the Sc’venge’s’ primitive fort, Quale and Aleytys are captured by Mistlanders and tied to a tree. While trying to escape, Quale is killed by a floating ghost which sucks his mind from his body.

The diadem which gives this series its name, and Aleytys some of her special powers, also contains the minds of three previous wearers: Shadith (the musical one), Harskari (the wise one) and Swardheld (the warrior one). Since Quale’s body is there for the taking, Swardheld jumps out of the diadem – with Aleytys’s help – and takes over Quale’s body. This is a permanent arrangement. The two manage to the get the queen and surviving Haestavaada back to the fort, Swardheld finds the keys to the Scavengers’ spaceships, which he had hidden from everyone, and they successfully make their escape and deliver the queen.

After a couple of books in which Aleytys was presented as a strong, albeit somewhat over-powered, heroine in high-tech space opera universe, the series has back-slipped to men treating Aleytys violently once again. And not just her: on her arrival, Aleytys discovers that Nowhere’s resident xenologist had been taken as a sex slave by Quale. Happily, it’s not gone so far as to turn back into a peplum space opera, all swords and slavery and spaceships, but Aleytys’s strategy on Nowhere is deeply problematic. On the plus-side, Clayton is a dab hand at depicting alien societies, and the Amar are rendered quite convincingly. The flora and fauna of Nowhere are less convincing, however, although one or two are quite amusing. And, despite their lethality, there’s no much jeopardy in the plot. The spear carriers all die, but the major characters survive – and it’s pretty much obvious from the first chapter.

Having now read six books of this series, I’m still a little mystified by their evident popularity when they were published. These days, they’re mostly forgotten – as indeed are most of Jo Clayton’s novels (and she wrote a lot of them). I get the appeal of a special snowflake protagonist – it’s one of the reasons Dune has remained in print for fifty years – but was the level of sexual violence inflicted on Aleytys ever really acceptable back in the late 1970s and early 1980s? I don’t recall it appearing in the science fiction I read at that time – although a lot of the books I devoured then treated women very badly in other ways, or ignored them altogether.

There are a further three novels in this series, and another seven novels based on the characters in Aleytys’s diadem. The Nowhere Hunt was a step backward after Maeve and Star Hunters. I hope the next book, Ghosthunt, doesn’t continue the backwards slide.

Star Hunters, Jo Clayton

star_huntersStar 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.

Maeve, Jo Clayton

maeveMaeve, Jo Clayton (1979)
Review by Ian Sales

After the sexual slavery and super-special snowflake abilities of series protagonist Aleytys in the first three books of the Diadem of the Stars, Maeve came as something of a pleasant surprise. It’s almost as if Clayton had given up on spaceships-and-sandals science fantasy and decided to write proper science fiction instead. Not only does Aleytys have a wardrobe throughout this novel, but it consists chiefly of functional clothing (and the clothes she wears as a hostess in Dryknolte’s Tavern are actually provided by the landlord). She also has sex no more than half a dozen times, with partners of her choosing (and one is pretty much a relationship).

Aleytys has landed on the eponymous planet, and left the smuggler she’s been travelling with, because she wants to find a ship to take her back to her home world of Jaydugar and her son (stolen in the second book of the series, Lamarchos, but recovered off-stage during book three, Irsud). So she heads for the world’s only city, guided by one of Maeve’s cat-like natives, Gwynnor. One of the her diadem’s little tricks is an instant translator, which allows her to speak any language she encounters. This later proves useful, when Aleytys and Gwynnor leave the plains, enter a forest and encounter the people there – also alien and native to Maeve, but not the same as Gwynnor, who does not speak their tongue:

“Ineknikt nex-ni-ghenusoukseht ghalaghayi.”

Aleytys heard it as a string of nonsense syllables, then a knife pain stabbed her through the head and the meaning slid like white beads on a string against the blackness in her mind. The people do not know your smell, younger sister of fire. (p 39)

The forest people – the cludair to Gwynoor’s cerdd – have been having trouble with the Company, which, in fine science-fictional tradition, is busy exploiting Maeve, including harvesting the forest home of the cludair with a giant harvesting machine. So Aleytys gives them a hand and destroys the harvester. She also captures the Company director, who is persuaded to stop logging in return for the cludair supplying a “tribute” of wood.

Having sorted that out, Aleytys and Gwynnor carry on to the city. Gwynnor heads back to his home village, to find it in dire straits – Company men have been raiding it and taking away all the young men and women, and the cerdd’s sacred drug, maranhedd. In the city, Aleytys gets a job as a hostess at Dryknolte’s Tavern while she tries to figure out how to get off-planet. There she meets Hunter Grey, who reveals that the director has been taken over by an alien parasite, which is due to spore. And when it does, a University ship in orbit will raze Maeve to bedrock to prevent the spores from escaping. So it’s up to Aleytys, Hunter Grey, Gwynnor and another cerdd, two cludair, and Maeve’s chief mystic, the Synwedda, to kill the director before the parasite can spore.

I’m not entirely what happened between Irsud and Maeve, but I certainly welcome the series’ new direction. Aleytys has gone from being a victim to a woman with real agency. Admittedly, she is still a snowflake. As well as the instant translator, she is a healer – and heals several people from near-death injuries during the book, including herself – and those three personalities trapped in the diadem also lend a hand on occasion. One, of course, is a warrior and a superb fighter. Another is a gifted musician. Both of these talents get used in Maeve. It does mean Aleytys is never really in any danger, but at least these magical talents are used in service to the  plot rather than simply to make Aleytys a more dramatic heroine. Previous novels in the series were driven by jeopardy – Aleytys is captured and must escape – but Maeve starts as a travelogue, introduces a mystery, and then sets a pretty, er, deadly deadline for resolving it. Also, the women characters in the novel are all strong – either council leaders, the only cerdd of Gwynnor’s village to do something about the Company raids, a pie-shop owner not above knocking heads on occasion, and the aforementioned Synwedda. It means Maeve is not the problematic read earlier books were, and while the setting all feels a bit like well-used furniture and the planet’s fate is never really in doubt, it all hangs together entertainingly. Hopefully, the remaining books in the series are more like Maeve than, say, Lamarchos.

Irsud, Jo Clayton

irsudIrsud, Jo Clayton (1978)
Review by Ian Sales

Irsud is the third book in Clayton’s nine-book Diadem Universe series, featuring the beautiful Aleytys who apparently has to spend much of her life in slavery of one form or another in order to offset her super-special snowflake status. At the end of the previous book, Lamarchos, Aleytys had been sold into slavery by Maissa, who has kept Aleytys’s young son, Sharl. Irsud opens on the eponymous world, and it is the the queen of this planet who has purchased Aleytys. For a particular purpose. The nayids of Irsud appear human in almost all respects…

… her body heating a little as she noted the genital similarity to the men of her own species. (p 14)

… except they have antennae (or rather, antennas), compound eyes, and a society which sort of resembles that of hive insects… Well, they have a queen… And, er, that’s it really. They also have slaves – members of their own race from other communities, as well as hiiri, small furry aliens who, it is implied, are the native race of Irsud. Aleytys is a slave, but her role is somewhat different to that of the other slaves – she has been bought because the queen wants to use the young woman as a host for her egg. When the queen dies, her consciousness is stored in an egg, which is then surgically implanted into a host body. The egg grows thousands of tendrils into the body, and slowly takes control of it… before eventually turning into a larva which eats the body from the inside. Aleytys was specifically chosen as a host because the queen hoped her new adult form would incorporate Aleytys’s special snowflake characteristics.

The process takes a year, during which Aleytys is held a prisoner in the queen’s fortress, under the control of the kipu, the dead queen’s chief advisor. Fortunately, Aleytys persuades a male slave nayid – the queen’s ex-lover, in fact – to surgically remove the psi-damper the slavers had implanted in Aleytys’ shoulder, and which was keeping her in a lethargic and disassociated state. Once back in control of her faculties – and in communication with the three disembodied intelligences residing in the diadem, the device which “chose” Aleytys in the first book of the series and which gives her much enhanced psi abilities; once more compos mentis, Aleytys sets about plotting her escape… With the help of Burash, the nayid slave and now her own lover, and a slave hiiri (small furry aliens) who works as a domestic servant in the fortress but has contacts with the hiiri rebel leadership.

The kipu, however, is determined to keep control of Aleytys, as her own power depends upon the old queen’s survival. (The nayids, incidentally, are matriarchal.) Aleytys manages to persuade the kipu that the queen has “woken up” inside her, but the kipu is not fooled for long. Nonetheless, she chooses to go along with the pretence in order to maintain her position… But then one of the dead queen’s daughters tries to kill Aleytys – first using hired assassins, then with poison – so Aleytys arranges a meeting with the hiiri rebel leader… but they are all captured by the kipu and her soldiers…

There are an awful lots of words in Irsud describing Aleytys’ body and her beauty. She also seems to spend a lot of the time naked (as she is, in fact, on the cover of the book). Then there are her “powers”… These seem to grow in both breadth and potency as the story progresses. And Aleytys only uses them when the story demands it, often conveniently forgetting her abilities in some situations.

It all wears a bit thin after a while. There is a plot somewhere in Irsud, but its buried beneath endless paragraphs pointing out how special Aleytys is and, oh, what a wonderful and beautiful body she has. Given that, it seems churlish to complain that the nayid social structure and biology makes no sense – compound eyes on a humanoid? A queen who lays eggs in an alien race that has two functioning genders?

Sandals and spaceships, or swords and spaceships, has long been one of science fiction’s more problematic subgenres. Spun out of the planetary romances of the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but with a more science-fictional sensibility laid over the top, it seems to consist chiefly of space operas stories in which slavery is rife, violence is endemic, and women are treated like chattel. I find it hard to understand why someone would want to write such science fictions. What is there to be gained in imagining a universe in which slavery is acceptable and women have all the rights of domesticated pets? Not only is it deeply offensive, but it leads to super-special snowflake characters such as Aleytys – because it’s only by being super-special snowflakes can protagonists like her have sufficient agency in such settings to generate drama, or even melodrama.

Apparently, the Diadem books remained in print for over a decade, right up until 1990. I can’t honestly understand why.

Lamarchos, Jo Clayton

LMRCHS6F1978Lamarchos, Jo Clayton (1978)
Review by Ian Sales

It’s not easy being a special snowflake heroine in a space opera. Though such characters are usually gifted with great beauty, special powers, the fastest spaceship in twelve sectors, and so on, it’s also a life filed with rape, sexual slavery, rape, slavery and rape. Take Aleytys, the heroine of Clayton’s Diadem series of nine novels. Born on a backwater planet of an offworld mother and maltreated as a result, she eventually escaped with the help of interstellar master thief Miks Stavver. And with him, she now seeks her mother and her mother’s homeworld. Not only is Aleytys very beautiful, and a loving mother to her baby son, Sharl, but she is also Vryhh. This means she will live longer than other humanoids, is stronger and faster, has a better memory, and a natural affinity with machines. She also possesses the diadem, which gives her mental powers.

Despite all this, she spends some of the time in Lamarchos, as she did in the first book of the series, Diadem from the Stars, in sexual slavery. She is on the eponymous world to assist Stavver in stealing a bunch of poaku stones from the Karkiskya, at the behest of psychopathic mercenary Maissa and a returned native called Kale. The Karkiskya are interstellar traders, who have many worlds, Lamarchos among them, tied up in a monopoly. They trade the prized poaku stones for knives, which the Lamarchans use as a sign of manhood.

Aleytys is assisted in the mission by Lamarchos’ resident gods, the Lakoe-heai, who make her a gikena, a type of wandering healer witch-woman. Disguised as such, with Stavver, Maissa and Kale as her travelling companions, she makes her way to Karkys, where the Karkiskya live. En route, she heals a young native man, learns he was unjustly outcast from his tribe, takes him home, and as gikena proves his innocence. But he must serve her for an unspecified period as payment, and so continues on with her to Karkys.

The heist goes as planned, but then things go awry. Maissa makes off with the swag (and baby Sharl), leaving Stavver and Aleytys to face the music. They con their way out of trouble and set off in hot pursuit. Maissa has the only starship on the planet and has promised Stavver and Aleytys a trip offworld to I!kwasset. Before they catch up with Maissa and Kale, they run into the Horde, a near-mindless, er, horde of brainless savages who strip the countryside they pass though like humanoid locusts. Aleytys is taken prisoner and raped by the Horde’s master, who is enormous – in all respects:

He was naked. As grossly male as he was grossly huge. Aleytys suppressed an inclination to gape and contented herself with wondering what sort of woman could receive that bulk into herself. (p 164)

The answer is apparently herself. And she appears to suffer no physical damage from the act.

But. Maissa caught, booty regained, master killed and Horde vanquished, and it’s finally time to leave Lamarchos. Except here come the Rmoahl Hounds, indefatigable guardians of the diadem who want it back. Aleytys makes on last deal with the Lakoe-heai, and Maissa, Stavver and Aleytys successfully launch. Kale remains behind – Lamarchos is, after all, his homeworld, and the poaku stones stolen from the Karkiskya were really for him all along.

And then an epilogue has Aleytys drugged and sold into slavery by Maissa, ripe for adventure in book three of the series, Irsud.

There seems to be a tendency in some space operas – less so now than was the case in the 1960s and 1970s – for the protagonist to be some sort of super-powered Mary Sue. They are always beautiful, and they spend much of the time naked. To balance this, the author throws all manner of horribleness at them, usually at the expense of both plausibility and the reader’s feelings. Given all that has happened to Aleytys during the first two books of the Diadem series, it’s astonishing she’s not suffering from severe PTSD. Sexual assault is commonplace, yet the author has Aleytys blithely carry on as if each violent rape were no more than a minor plot hurdle. Humanity has apparently found some way to colonise the galaxy, and found itself among countless alien races – and yet every world is populated by barbarians, violence is endemic, and all races practice slavery…

This is not adventure. It may exhibit all the trappings of space opera or science fantasy, but the disregard with which Clayton hampers her heroine’s travails with rape, violence and slavery, and the unfeasible ease with which Aleytys recovers from each such assault, make of this book something far less savoury. It astonishes me the reader is expected to identify with Aleytys. While she certainly possesses agency – she usually saves herself; and others – it’s as if that could not be allowed on its own. There must be balance. Which, of course, is not something which typically applies to male protagonists in space operas and science fantasies.

If the Diadem of the Stars series is mostly forgotten these days, it’s no real surprise. In the twenty-first century, such grimdark genre fiction is typically fantasy rather than science fiction ,and the protagonist is usually the perpetrator of sexual assaults rather than the victim. This is, of course, no improvement.

Diadem from the Stars, Jo Clayton

Diadem from the Stars, Jo Clayton (1977)
Review by Ian Sales

Between 1977 and her death in 1998, Jo Clayton wrote thirty-five novels, all of which were organised into fantasy or science fiction trilogies or series. Diadem from the Stars was Clayton’s first novel, and the first book in a nine-book series featuring the same protagonist and universe. It is perhaps best described as “science fantasy”, a term I usually dislike. While clearly set within a space opera framework, Diadem from the Stars takes place entirely on a low-tech planet colonised three thousand years previously by assorted racial groups. The plot is a quest, as the protagonist attempts to find the one spaceship that will allow her to leave.

The planet is called Jaydugar, and it is notable for having two suns, one red and one blue. When both are in the sky, the heat is more than humans can bear. Aleytys is a young woman who lives among the people of the valley of the river Raqsidan. Her mother was an offworlder who crashed on Jaydugar and was taken as a wife by the valley people’s leader, the Azdar. She then left shortly after Aleytys was born. Now, years later, Aleytys is loved by some, tolerated by others, and hated by a few. When a fireball – actually a starship crashing – triggers a crisis in the Raqsidan people, Aleytys is forced to flee for her life. She is helped by her boyfriend, who provides mounts, food, and her mother’s logbook – which explains Aleytys’s heritage and how she can escape Jaydugar and find her mother. This involves a long trek across the planet.

So this is what Aleytys does.

Given the nature of the genre, this trek is not going to be uneventful. Aleytys is chased by one of the Azdar’s hunters but eventually manages to elude him. She is captured by a nomad with mental powers greater than her own, and forced to becomes his sex slave. She later escapes, and is taken in by another race of nomads, and subsequently precipitates a crisis among them and so has to flee…

Aleytys is no damsel in distress. Her mother is a Vryhh, which is some sort of super-race:

Memory, faster than ordinary reflexes; a thirst amounting to an obsession for knowing; an instinct for constructs, machines of all kinds; a translating ability … strength of body beyond the ordinary … and endurance. (p 53)

And a greatly extended lifetime too. Also, by virtue of her Raqsidan blood, Aleytys has mental powers – weak and uncontrolled initially, but they grow stronger as the story progresses.

And then there’s the diadem. Diadem from the Stars opens with a prologue in which a thief steals the eponymous jewellery. It is his ship which is the fireball which kickstarts Aleytys’ narrative. Later the diadem is given to Aleytys and bonds with her, strengthening her powers and, on occasion, taking her body over to perform some act of violent revenge and/or defence.

To be honest, it’s all a bit Mary Sue-ish, with Aleytys as some sort of super-special young woman – not only an outcast among those she grew up with and forced to find her destiny among the stars; but also possessing superpowers and a magical tiara (and she’s beautiful too, of course). But, as is often the case in genre fiction, such gifts cannot go undeserved: Aleytys must suffer in order to be shown worthy of the reader’s sympathy in spite of her specialness. There is no good reason why Aleytys should spend weeks raped nightly as a sex slave. There are likely similarly dramatic ways she could have travelled the same distance across Jaydugar. Indeed, earlier she camps out in a hunter’s cabin, makes friend with a giant wildcat, heals its family, and then offers her body to the hunter when he turns up. There’s a disturbing undercurrent of sexual violence underlying Aleystys’ story, and while it may have been intended to read as “sacrifice” it comes across as the opposite.

Elsewhere, the worldbuilding is generally good, though the narrative is larded with smeerps and the like. Clayton apparently was incapable of using a word where a made-up one would do the trick. The Raqsidan are apparently descended “from the Parshta-Firush”, which could be a corruption of Pushtu or Farsi. Certainly the section of Diadem from the Stars set among these people is peppered with terms which are vaguely Arabic, though not always used correctly. There is a reference to the “finjan Topaz” as a place, though finjan means “cup”. A mention of a majlis implies that it is a place of religious ceremonies, whereas it actually means a meeting room or “place of sitting”. Both terms, however, are used in Farsi, with the same meanings, and it may be that the other less familiar terms are derived from that language.

Later, when Aleytys joins the final group of nomads, the language spoken appears to be one of the Native American tongues. And though Aleytys’ abilities allow her to speak it fluently, the dialogue occasionally breaks into the nomads’ language. The various tongues are definitely over-used. Also, the prose throughout is somewhat over-wrought, and Aleytys is a protagonist who feels everything strongly. Though only a short novel – of 235 pages – Diadem from the Stars is an intense read.

Diadem from the Stars was followed by Lamarchos a year later, and then Irsud, Maeve, Star Hunters, The Nowhere Hunt, Ghosthunt, The Snares of Ibex and finally Quester’s Endgame in 1986. Clayton also wrote three other spin-off trilogies set in the same universe.