Friday, June 12, 2015

The Far Side of Evil

The Far Side of Evil. Sylvia Engdahl. 1971/2003. Penguin. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

The wind is howling through the trees outside, a cold, hateful wind. By standing on the bunk I can just barely reach the window. It's quite dark now, and the stars are brilliant, though they seem terribly far away. They, at least, are familiar and comforting, a reminder of home.
Elana, our heroine, has just graduated from the Federation Anthropological Service Academy. Her first "official" assignment has her going undercover on the youngling planet, Toris. The planet is in the "Critical Stage," and the Federation is sending dozens of agents in undercover. It's an information gathering mission, not one of intervention. The goal: blend in as much as possible with the Younglings, and transmit your observations when possible. It's dangerous because if Toris goes critical--uses nuclear weapons--then all the agents are essentially just as doomed as the younglings themselves. The only other agent Elana knows is another recent graduate. His name is Randil. He's a mess.

Toris has two "warring" governments, which is putting the planet in "Critical Stage." Elana's cover gets blown, and she's captured as a spy. The book is her report of how she become imprisoned and how she's handling the daily torture.

The premise of Far Side of Evil is simple. All civilizations--all planets--evolve through a critical stage, a stage where they choose to use their technology for weapons--nuclear warfare--or they choose to use their technology to go to the stars, to explore and colonize space.

Did I like The Far Side of Evil? Not really. Why? That's a good question. Was it because the chapters were way too long? Perhaps. Was it because it lacked the charm of The Enchantress From the Stars? Perhaps. I will say that Enchantress from the Stars has an almost fairy-tale feel to it in places. It reads like a fantasy book. Was it Randil's fault? Probably. He certainly proves irritating and infuriating. But it wasn't his fault alone. I also found Elana's narration to be less than ideal. I found her to be smug, arrogant, condescending, and repetitive. Why was Elana so likeable in Enchantress from the Stars and so unlikeable in Far Side of Evil? I think in the first book she was more vulnerable, and less confident in her abilities. She wasn't alone. She was acting under the advice of other older-and-wiser Federation agents, including her father. Both books are premise-driven to a certain extent; but Far Side of Evil is only premise-driven, and Enchantress from the Stars is plot-driven and character-driven too.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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