There and Back Again
by Pat Murphy
Review by Ann Cecil
This is a strange and intriguing book, successful and simultaneously unsuccessful on a variety of levels. To start with, there's the cover; on my copy, we have a beautiful girl, with one side of her face tattooed, the eye covered. She looks exotic, glamorous, and seductive.
Now in the book, there is a very explicit description of this character and her tattoos, as well as the eye patch. "From the left, she looked exotic and sinister, touched with shadow. Powerful. Not necessarily evil, but not necessarily good. Tricky and confusing. Her beautiful face was patterned in darkness."
You can understand and sympathize with the artist; that's a tall order, hard to draw. OK, he got the exotic part. And the short hair. The tattoo is clearly some kind of dragon, eating at her mouth. Not even vaguely matching the book's description, which talks about "A pattern of fine lines radiated from the eye cap, as if a spider had been spinning a gossamer web of black against her pale skin." That's a very cool and fitting image; it's a shame the artist didn't want to use it. And of course, the girl on the cover has a nice healthy blush in her cheeks - no paleness here.
But many books have covers that seem not to match the details in the book; why am I making a big deal out of this one? Perhaps because that disparity between the visuals seems to reflect my feelings about a lot of the story itself.
It is obvious very quickly (and you are supposed to recognize) that this is The Hobbit retold as an sf adventure. Instead of a short halfling living in an English village, we get a norbit named Bailey, who lives in the Restless Rest, a hollowed-out, cozy asteroid. We get a cute explanation that "norbit" is the term for humans who are asteroid miners, where being short and a bit stout is a Good Thing.
The tattooed lady of the cover is Gitana, a Gandolf stand-in, who involves Bailey in a fantastic adventure with the Farr clones, in search of an alien artifact that could be a map unraveling the Wormhole system, which is used for travel to the heart of the galaxy - and if Bailey's lucky, back again.
Much of the fun in this book is recognizing the original characters and objects redone in science-fiction tropes. Even if you've never read The Hobbit, this is an enjoyable tale, if lightweight. And I suppose that is my problem, why I find it both successful and not: Murphy constrains herself to the level of the original, so Bailey is oddly childlike throughout, and never really changes much.
There are fascinating creations here. For example, the Resurrectionists, who believe that cloned humans are really just spare parts; but we see them primarily as obstacles, since Bailey's companions are the Farr clones (dwarf stand-ins). I guess I wish she'd abandoned the hobbitry and explored her own creations in more depth; but then that's not the point of this book. And it accomplishes what Murphy wanted, with a good deal of artistry, in a highly readable fashion.
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