Courtship Rite (1982)

On Geta the substance of the animals and plants is poison to humans, and the humans and their imported plants are poison to the local fauna and flora. Since the humans of Geta have lost most of their technology, the only way to survive is to live off each other, cannibalism is part of their culture, the old and the weak give their flesh in times of famine, criminals are eaten when caught.

Because of these conditions life is treasured and war is unknown, for wasting people and their flesh is the greatest sin on Geta. In times the lost technology and science gets rediscovered, and not all progress is technological, social norms and morality change, and what may have been unthinkable in the past, may not be so anymore. A man made plague to create famine only one of these unthinkable acts.

But it’s not only a story about progress on another world, it is the of a family of two wives and three husbands who search for another wife to complete their family, to make a stable six. Yet, life and loves is never easy, and many complications surface that may not only take away the one they court to be their the newest member of their family, no it may even threaten their family as a whole and even the tribe they belong to.

The book has been at times compared to Dune, and that rings very true, the detail of the world-building is astonishing, after only a short time the reader feels as if this strange society really exist somewhere out there between the stars. But what makes the book really shine is how Kingsbury writes a romance novel, a novel about technological progress, a novel about morality and many more things.

Most interesting is that while many people will at first see this as a primitive, even barbaric world because of the cannibalism as part of their culture, Kingsbury makes it very clear that these people have very high moral values and are even shocked by what they later discover about Earth’s culture, about our brutal and violent history. This was Kingsbury’s first novel, yet from the quality of the writing it feels like he was then already a seasoned writer.