I am quickly becoming a fan of C.S. Friedman. Audible Frontiers has recently produced all her novels in audio format, so I snatched them up and I’m happy I did. Her science fiction is original, imaginative, and super smart.
In The Madness Season, a man named Daetrin is old enough to have fought in the last battle when the Earth was conquered by the aliens of Tyr. That was three hundred years ago and the Tyrians want to know how Daetrin is still alive. So they’ve captured him, just like they’ve rounded up all the humans who they think they can learn something from. The Tyr have been genetically engineering the humans who are left on Earth — breeding out creativity, intelligence, and rebelliousness in the hopes of making them more biddable — but some humans have found ways to resist their captors’ plans. Daetrin is worried about what they intend to do with him. If he cooperates with them, will he doom the future of his own people? Should he try to find some allies and fight back? Or is it possible that there are values more important than survival?
The Madness Season showcases many of C.S. Friedman’s admirable skills: inventive and perfectly leak-proof plot, excellent character development (this book contains some of my favorite Friedman characters so far), elegant writing style, a nice balance of tension and release, a touch of understated humor, and a foundation of science (math, physics, biology, comparative anatomy, neuroscience, evolution, sociology) that informs without being at all teachy.
Perhaps what I appreciate most about C.S. Friedman is that she creates wonderfully inventive worlds, species, languages, and cultures that truly feel alien rather than just variations on humanity. Friedman’s aliens are so alien that they’re frightening. They have different language processing equipment, different sensory systems, and completely different ways of thinking. All of their physiological and psychological details are different from ours, but Friedman uses her scientific knowledge to construct them so that they make sense. Friedman also has interesting insights and ideas about human behavior — again, backed up by research findings about memory, perception, consciousness, sleep, etc.
Jonathan Davis, as I’ve said so many times before, is one of the very best audiobook narrators. As usual, he gives a terrific reading of The Madness Season. Even though he speaks a little too slowly (I had to increase the playback speed), Davis has perfect cadence and makes it possible to forget that we’re being read to. If you see Jonathan Davis’ name on the cover, you can be sure it’s a good production. I highly recommend The Madness Season — especially in audio format!