The Madness Season (1990)

The Madness Season

It’s probably not the first thing an author want to read in a review of one of his books, but the Kindle version of Celia S. Friedman’s The Madness Season has such an ungodly number of basic OCR errors that reading it is decidedly not fun at times. Makes me wary of buying any other older DAW titles, because it seems they don’t pay anyone to check for the simplest errors after automatically scanning the texts.

As for the book, it’s quite interesting, though its subject matter makes for a tense and not very comforting experience. It’s one of the few science fiction books where Earth has been successfully invaded and Friedman manages to make the oppressive mood palpable (the only other books that come to mind with a similar feel are Stephen Baxter’s Timelike Infinity and William Barton’s When Heaven Fell). These are not invaders easily overthrown with a good speech and courage, but vicious and superior conquerors who can easily eradicate all the humans left given enough reason.

While the overall arc is about freeing Earth and all the other conquered races from the invaders, its course there is decidedly different from the usual fare. First, most of the story is told from the viewpoint of a vampire who slowly learns more about himself than he ever wanted to know (his shape changing abilities are far stronger he ever knew and key to beating the aliens). Another viewpoint character is part of an eon-old non-corporeal race (who can create or overtake any physical body and shape them at will) who worked together with another old race that created a star-spanning, peaceful empire and suddenly vanished in the wake of the new invaders.

Friedman takes a lot of cliches and puts them together in a way that makes them seem if not entirely fresh at least different and unique enough to make it worth your while. Her writing is much more introspective than you would expect in this kind of book, with her vampire character (though the word vampire isn’t used for a long while it’s obvious what he is) going on a journey to various worlds of the invaders and learning more and more about them, until he has all the pieces to (sort of) beat them. It’s less about a glorious resistance effort and more a personal journey of rediscovery and learning that leads the main character to an ending that is both expected (at least the outcome) but the particulars will still be surprising.

Also, as out of place as the thought of seeing an old-school vampire in a space opera setting seems at first, those disparate elements mesh astonishingly well together.