Mazeway – Jack Williamson

Mazeway_-_Jack_Williamson_cover
Lifeburst #2

After Earth’s skyweb is destroyed by a violent alien, three humans try to prove their species worthy of membership in the galactic eldren community – Benn, raised among the eldren; Roxane, claimed sole survivor of the vastly wealthy Kwan family; and Diego, a determined and unscrupulous speculator. While strange silence afflicts the eldren, Benn must contend with a trio of mysterious aliens aligned with Roxane and Diego, as they all try to complete the Game of Blade and Stone.

I came to Jack Williamson late, as a name I’d heard for years, but somehow never read. I think the first book of his I read was Demon Moon, which I found underwhelming. The Early Williamson and The Undersea Trilogy (with Frederik Pohl) were somewhat better.

I picked Mazeway off my shelf the other day, looking for a soothing, decent quality re-read. I didn’t remember it as being great, but I didn’t really remember much, and the premise (alien puzzle competition!) looked fun.

Sadly, Mazeway isn’t even as good as I remembered. In fact, it’s a pretty weak book. It’s highly reminiscent of Piers Anthony’s puzzle stories (think Thousandstar), but the fact is that Anthony, for all his flaws, does this a lot better. From the start, the Game simply doesn’t make any sense as a test for eldren eligibility. Williamson tries to correct for this at the very end, but it’s too little, too late. Some other aspects of the story defy logic in irritating ways as well, and there are occasional inconsistencies.

The story, while first published in 1990, is also dated by Williamson’s old school view of sex. Benn, all-around sensitive, non-macho, nice guy, just can’t control his lust when he has a glass or two of wine. Roxane, while in no way shy, is constantly threatening to knife men who look at her funny – because most of them do.

Most important, though, the story simply isn’t very interesting. All the parts are here, but Williamson doesn’t show much care in putting them together. The premise is weak, the plot doesn’t quite make sense, and the characters are distant and uninteresting. The book is certainly readable, but in the end, you just don’t care very much about it.

I learned just now that this is a somewhat-sequel to Lifeburst, but it functions well enough as a stand-alone novel.

All in all, if it’s aliens and puzzles you want, almost any Piers Anthony book will be more logical and engaging than this one (if probably just as sexist).

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