Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Report: Infinity Hold 3, by Barry B. Longyear

Infinity Hold 3 (It's supposed to be "cubed," but I can't figure out how to represent that).

Okay, so here's a funny story.

It's 2003 (I think), and I'm on the first travel vacation I've taken in forever. Penelope and I are in Calgary, Alberta Canada.

Why Calgary?

Why not? Sure, it's oiltown, but it's also got some of the greatest beef restaurants on the planet, it's a few miles from Drumheller which has one of the greatest dinosaur museums on the planet (and the weirdest geography I've ever seen), it's a few miles from the Rockies (at this point I'd never seen real mountains before), AND it's home to Penelope's aunt. It's also the city I will remember forever because it was there that I got the call telling me there were two brothers coming up for adoption...

But I digress. It's also got some neat bookstores. In one of them, I was perusing the piles and came across a battered paperback called Infinity Hold, by Barry B. Longyear. A decade before this, I had picked up a copy of Amazing Stories (May, 1992) which had included a story called "Blades of the Diram Ring." I'd never heard of Longyear (author of Enemy Mine, which was a wonderful Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella butchered into a movie), but I read the story. I read it again. That night, while she was trying to get some sleep, I read it to Penelope. It was a story about faith and redemption and ultimate suicide sports and it stuck in my head so much that when I saw a book by the same author, I had to buy it.

Fast-forward a week. We're flying home from Vancouver, British Columbia. It's a long stretch from Vancouver to Toronto. Good time to read (when I'm not staring out the window and wishing I could fly like Superman. Sorry, maturity is only a disguise I wear in front of the children).

So I crack open Infinity Hold and start to read. I like it a lot... right up to the point where I discover that pages 87 to 122 are missing. Not cut out, not fallen of their own accord, just not printed. The book goes straight from page 86 to 123.

The remainder of the flight passes in a funk because I won't read a book without a heart.
Penelope, because she is always kind and because it's so darned rare that I actually WANT something (I lead a Spartan existence, but my family makes up for my lack), finds the complete trilogy on line through BackInPrint.com (an iUniverse thing, at a time before I knew what iUniverse was). When it arrives, I read even the bits that I'd already read because it had been months since the flight home.

First: no illusions. It's not a perfect book. In its iUniverse form, it's got typos and typesetting issues and the cover is bland. It exerts, however, a strange fascination over me.

Infinity Hold 3 is a compilation of three books: Infinity Hold, Kill All the Lawyers and Keep the Law. It's about a group of unrehabilitatable convicts who have their life sentences commuted to exile on the planet Tartaros. Tartaros, in addition to possessing a massive desert into which the convicts are dumped without maps and with only a few days of provisions, has served as a dumping ground for convicts from dozens of worlds for dozens of years. The result is a place ruled by savage gangs formed around the most brutal and powerful rulers.

Into this place drops Nicos Bando and a group of hardcore cons who appear destined either to die or to be swallowed up by the existing gangs until one of their number, a terrorist and political reactionary, suggests they band together for mutual protection and suggests a vote on leadership. The book chronicles the transformation of this group of savage men and women into a political force, an army and a nation. It also chronicles Bando's transformation from just another murderer into a policeman, a lawmaker and a leader for a society of criminals and sociopaths. The plot rambles a bit, and its presentation of an AA-type grouping as a treatment for ills ranging from loneliness to compulsive rape strikes me as being a bit too pat, but I find the read compelling and I return to it again and again.

I can't help thinking sometimes that if Bando's approach to law and law enforcement were imposed on the real world, it might work better than our current justice system. The book forces the reader to think about justice, not just about law, about what makes people and societies work and it makes me wonder if sometimes we place too much value on human life and not enough on humane life.

Ulysses Rating: 5 (I'll read this again and again)

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