|Epiphyte Book Review||up to review index|
by Steven Gould
Agatsu is a terraformed colony world, the last desperate effort of a dying Earth. Earth lacked the resources to set up a high-tech colony, so instead they used "imprinters" -- transparent helmets that download information and behavior patterns directly into the brain -- to force the founding colonists into the habits of hygiene, nutrition, and literacy necessary for the survival of a low-tech colony.
Four centuries later, several feudal kingdoms are thriving on Agatsu and battling over fertile land. The last imprinter, known as the Glass Helm, sits atop a three hundred meter high rock spire called the Needle. Leland de Laal, the youngest son of the Steward of Laal province, climbs the Needle in defiance of his father's law to reach the Helm and set it upon his head. The Helm burns a black hole into Leland's mind. He can't examine the hole directly without risking his sanity, but fascinating things start to leak out of it: arcane knowledge, martial arts, and sarcastic comments.
Helm revolves around aikido, both in combat and as a way of life. It's easy to tell who the good guys are: anyone who practices aikido can be trusted.
Leland is a bit of a cipher. His reasons for climbing the Needle are never well explained; he's neither rebellious nor ambitious, but he wants the Helm badly enough to claw his way straight up a sheer rock face. He's bright and compassionate, but he never really develops a personality, which is odd given that he has an extra one lurking in the back of his head.
Leland is likable enough despite his blandness, and the story maintains its momentum as he copes with abuse, treachery, and war. Helm has a wider scope than Steven Gould's earlier novels, Jumper and Wildside; like those books, it's a coming-of-age tale with broad appeal.
-- Christina Schulman.
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