Hunter’s Run (book, George RR Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham, 2007

A review from Death Ray 06.


George RR Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham/Voyager

Violent Mexican learns how to live with himself in this thrilling SF adventure from three American amigos.

The result of a three-way collaboration that took 30 years to reach fruition, Hunter’s Run is pulp at its absolute best, more than a slice of good old-fashioned science fiction action, this is the whole pie. A gritty, violent tale of a down and dirty prospector trying to survive aliens, extra-terrestrial wildlife and his own aggressive impulses on a vividly imagined, Latin American colony world.

Ramon Espejo is a thug who struts the streets like a barrio king, but in reality, he’s far from comfortable in his own skin, and drunkenly murders a man in his local bar to gain the approval of his peers. Unluckily for Ramon, the man turns out to have been the ambassador from Europe, and Ramon is forced to go on the lam, heading out on a prospecting run into the uncharted northern wilderness while the hue and cry blows over. The ships of the enigmatic Silver Enye are due to arrive on a trade mission, and Ramon is banking on the government hanging some other bruiser in his stead as a show of strength to the aliens.

But when Ramon sets out into the wilderness, he stumbles onto a hidden hive of unknown aliens who do something unthinkable to him in order to prevent the unthinkable happening to them. Stripped of his gear, his dignity and his sense of self, Ramon is tethered to one of the creatures by a repulsive techno-organic leash. He has become their hunting dog – and their prey is a lot closer to home than he can imagine.

This is not high-end intellectual SF. There’s a stab of sorts of philosophical commentary about identity and personal balance. In the book’s brief interviews with the three authors, George RR Martin compares the relationship Ramon has with the man he is hunting to that of Genly Ai and Estraven in Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. This is a generous reading – Hunter’s Run never reaches such heights of thoughtfulness.

But although there’s not the depth here that Martin perhaps sees, it has many of SF’s other virtues. The various alien races are sufficiently different to humans to be genuinely worthy of the name, and Sao Paulo’s ecosystem is so well-imagined that its landscapes glitter. Daniel Abraham, in his commentary, talks about placing the reader in the moment, and it is in that the authors have their greatest success. You almost smell Ramon’s sweat, feel the biting cold of the river he rafts down sucking the cold from your bones, reel at the impact of the punches. The Latin American angle is a little less realistic – apparently Latino culture isn’t going to change at all in the future – but although it doesn’t work so well if you think about it too hard, it does contribute to the novel’s solid sense of place, spicing the plot’s boys’ own adventure sensibilities with a dash of tabasco. This plot is a muscular, leaping thing, rippling with twists, taut with suspense that explodes into furious action on a satisfyingly regular basis. The revelations stack up as neatly as dominoes, and keep you turning the pages until well past bedtime.

It’s Ramon’s journey that keeps you hooked. This is the story of a man who confronts himself, quite literally. Though he is still an unstable bastard at the end of the book, he is at least more accepting of who is, and that makes him a better person. Rage-filled and dangerous, he is a criminal with just enough sense of decency to keep him on the right side of your sympathies. The strength of this character, just as complex as he needs to be, smoothes over the odd bump the story throws up.

In fact, the bumps are the usual ridiculous coincidences and narrative acts of leger de main one expects in action stories. Stylistically the three writers’ work melds together seamlessly. As mentioned before, there’s a section at the back of the book where the collaborators are quizzed on the story’s long journey, almost as fraught as Ramon’s, from a manuscript in Dozois’ drawer to novel. It’s a well-appreciated insight into this ripping yarn.

Did you know?

Hunter’s Run was originally started in the 1970s by Gardner Dozois. After some time in a drawer, it ended up with Martin, who suggested a collaboration, did some work on it, and sent it back to Dozois. It promptly disappeared into a drawer again, this time for two decades. In 2005, with Abraham’s help, it was finally published as a novella, Shadow Twin, before being expanded and re-released as Hunter’s Run.

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