Hunter’s Run: A fast but sophisticated read

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fantasy book review George R.R. Martin Gardner Dozois Daniel Abraham Hunter's RunHunter’s Run by George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHunter’s Run is somewhat interesting in that it’s a collaboration novel that you can’t really tell is a collaboration and a science-fiction novel that relies surprisingly little on science fiction. And these are by no means complaints. The collaboration’s seamlessness speaks to the craft and professionalism of the three writers while the lack of reliance on science fiction allows for a fine mix of quick-paced adventure and character introspection.

Don’t get me wrong — the science fiction elements are essential to the plot: space-faring races, a planet being colonized (slowly) by humanity who have become seemingly the general laborers of this universe, a high-tech blaster. You need the sci fi to get the story going. But once it does get going, the sci-fi elements fade discreetly into the deep background. What you’re left with is a three-layered novel.

One layer is a simple adventure story. Ramon Espejo, a hard-nosed and hard-to-like independent prospector on the planet Sao Paulo, kills a man in a bar fight and to avoid the ensuing investigation takes off into the wild. While prospecting out there, he stumbles across an unknown alien race and for reasons it’s best not to go into in a review, he is forced into service by the aliens. Attached (literally) to one of the aliens, he becomes their human tracker, tasked to hunt down and kill another human. The chase is the adventure aspect of the story as Ramon tracks the other human through the rocky wilderness, trying to avoid traps and snares left by his prey. Ramon, of course, is also looking for every chance to escape his jailer alien.

The second layer is a true character study as Ramon learns more and more about himself as the chase goes on. He sees himself from the outside perspective he’s never had the opportunity to employ before and he doesn’t much like what he sees. Through flashbacks and memories we get a view of how Ramon got to be where and what he is, and the journey is seldom a pretty one.

The final layer of Hunter’s Run is cultural/social as Ramon becomes not just a tracker for the alien he travels with but also a test case — a means to learn about what humans are like. Unfortunately for humanity, Ramon isn’t the greatest example, and most of humanity’s flaws are laid bare for the alien to marvel at — our quickness to rage, our ability to kill freely, etc.

All three levels of Hunter’s Run are successful. The chase aspect is quick-moving and tense. The character study is strangely compelling. An author (or three) takes a chance in using a hard-to-like main character and, to be honest, there isn’t much to like about Ramon. At least, not for a long while. But the authors take their time in allowing Ramon (and the reader) to learn about him — his many flaws and his not-so-many strengths — and his desire to look more deeply into himself and find something he can choose, something he can respect, grabs our attention and eventually our own respect. You can’t help but root for him no matter how much you dislike him at the start. The social aspect is also handled well, with a lot of discussion about when or if it is ever appropriate to kill. It would have been easy for the book to devolve into talky preachiness, but it never does and if it sometimes hits a bit too bluntly at the subject, those times are relatively rare. Mostly the questions it asks are provoking and thoughtful. The three aspects also mesh together smoothly. The action doesn’t clunk to a halt so we can get pages of introspection. The three strands are woven deftly through the novel all to its very satisfying close.

Hunter’s Run is a fast read — a sitting will do it or maybe two — but its content is more sophisticated than the usual fast read. An interestingly ugly character deeply explored, a mysterious alien race, a race/chase against time, a mirror held up to some of humanity’s blemishes — it all comes together.

Hunter’s Run — (2007) With Daniel Abraham & Gardner Dozois. Publisher: Like so many others, Ramón Espejo ran from the poverty and hopelessness of the Third World to the promise of a new world — joining a host of like-minded workers and dreamers aboard one of the great starships of the mysterious, repulsive Enye. But the life he found on the far-off planet of São Paulo was no better than the one he had abandoned. Tough, volatile, and angry — a luckless prospector hoping for that one rich strike that will make him wealthy — Ramón is content only when on his own out in the bush, far from the dirty, loud, bustling hive of humanity that he detests with sociopathic fervor. Then one night his rage and too much alcohol get the better of him, resulting in sudden bloodshed and a high-profile murder. Ramón is forced to flee into the wilderness for however long it will take for the furor to die down. Here, mercifully, almost happily alone, Ramón is once again free. But while searching for his long-elusive lode, he stumbles upon something completely unexpected: a highly advanced alien race in hiding; fugitives like himself on a world not their own. Suddenly in possession of a powerful, dangerous secret, Ramón must battle for his freedom from alien captors and also against the hostile and unpredictable planet. And so the chase begins. Police, fugitive aliens, and a human murderer weave a web of shifting alliances as Ramón enters the greatest manhunt the alien world of São Paulo has ever known. If he is to survive, Ramón must overcome inscrutable aliens and deadly predators, but his greatest enemy is himself. With every move in the desperate game, he struggles to outwit his enemies and solve the mystery of a murder he himself committed. A rip-roaring adventure tale and character study of a fascinating and twisted mind, Hunter’s Run showcases three masters of the form at their best.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who’s been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the “Notable Essays” section of Best American Essays. His children’s work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he’s not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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