Sunday, 24 June 2018

Book Review : Anne McCaffrey - The Rowan (The Tower and the Hive, I)

I must admit I decided to read The Rowan for two reasons. Firstly, I had never read anything by McCaffrey and secondly, judging by the curious looking cat on the cover of my second-hand hardcopy, I figured that the story featured a feline character of sorts. 

Well, there is a feline in the book - a precious barque cat, to be precise. True to their independent nature, however, it abandons its owner, Altair's most gifted telepathic inhabitant, the Rowan aka Angharad Gwyn, halfway through the story. 


Anne McCaffrey - The Rowan, ACE / Putnam, C.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1990, Cover Art: Romas (Romas Brandt Kukalis)

Sadly, as soon as my main motivation for reading the novel was evicted from the story line, my interest in the rest of the book declined rapidly. In the end I decided to abandon it for a while and read something else instead. When I resumed reading this morning, I couldn't help wondering why this book ever got written, let alone published. To be fair, there are another five books in the Tower and Hive series and reading them might provide an answer. Yet, I simply was not drawn in enough, so it's unlikely I will pick any of the sequels any time soon.

The Rowan is the life story of McCaffrey's character of the same name, an orphaned and extremely gifted telepath from planet Altair. Growing up in one of Altair's remote mining communities, the Rowan loses her entire family in a mudslide and is rescued thanks to her ability to project her excruciating cries for help telepathically. 

As her wailing is picked up by the authorities, the child is saved and eventually taken care of by a foster mother. Being extraordinarily gifted, the Rowan receives training in all things telepathy and telekinesis from Altair's prime telepath, Siglen, under the watchful eye of  T-1 Earth Prime, Reidinger. The Rowan child is destined to become one of FT&T's T-1 primes, one day to be in charge of her very own tower on another planet.

Altair is a mining planet and vital supplier of raw materials destined for Earth. All cargo leaving and arriving on the planets is transported with the help of telepaths with telekinetic abilities, also known as the T-1 Primes. Human space travel underlies the same telekinetic principles. With the entire logistics of all planetary existence hinging on the exchange of raw materials between Earth and its colonised planets, the most gifted telepaths are crucial for the continued operation of this supply chain and thus assume a somewhat privileged position in society.

Part one of the series sketches the Rowan's life from the early tragedy of losing her parents to becoming herself a T-1 Prime, and eventually wife to Jeff Raven, and mother of their son, Jeran.  Oh yeah, and I forgot....! The Primes get to fight a telepathic space assault against an invasion of alien enemy beetles in defence of Deneb, Jeff's home planet. 

I'm not sure which target audience this book is aimed at. Perhaps, McCaffrey wrote it with a teenage audience in mind, given that most of the positive reviews I have found come from readers with book nostalgia, revisiting a favourite teenage read; and the telepathic love story between the Rowan and Jeff may well appeal to a younger audience. 

Though the plot is well paced, I simply couldn't relate to the characters in the book. They all remained more or less remote to me. The technical aspects of the story, i.e. mainly telekinetic transportation and telepathic communication, didn't overwhelm. This is a bonus for all those who enjoy a less technical sic-fi novel. Yet, the concept of super-talented telepaths shunting space ships around with the mere power of their minds appears a trifle far-fetched. I didn't enjoy McCaffrey's writing style all too much in this one, but I haven't been put off completely. One day, I'm sure, I will give the Pern series a go. 
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