22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A science fiction classic that is still worth reading.,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Lovers (Hardcover)
This is a novel based on a short story from 1952. Unlike many such extended stories, Farmer succeds to create a coherent whole novel without boring material just intended to stretch a story to novel lenght.
The protagonist of "The Lovers" is Hal Yarrow, citizen of the Haijac Union, a totalitarian teocracy that has replaced the USA after a world war decimated most of the human race. Stifled by the unrelenting control by the state-church and its police over every aspect of his life, he is offered a way out of his bleak existence when he is drafted as a linguist for an interstellar expedition to the planet Ozagen, a world inhabited by a native species with a very complex language.
Things are not quite what they seem; the ostensibly peaceful scientific expedition is actually intended to pave the way for human colonization, starting with genocide by germ warfare on the native species. While Yarrow is working together with the local inhabitants to learn more of the world, the spaceship crew is working on producing bioweapons lethal to the natives. During a trip trough the wilderness, Yarrow meets Jeanette, a human survivor of an earlier, failed colony, founded by people who fled the Earth before the Haijac Union established hegemony over the western world.
Yarrow falls in love with Jeanette, and he realizes he would not be allowed to meet her, or any human not approved of by the state-church hierarchy and its local commissar, Pornsen. The existence of other humans on the planet is not known by Yarrow's superiors, and he decides to keep it a secret. As his secret love affair with Jeanette continues, he begins to change from a loyal subject of the state-church to a rebel. His love to Jeannette gives him the courage to bluff his superiors in a game of deceit that will cost him his life if he is found out.
"The Lovers" was considered controversial when it was published in 1952, since the explicit treatment of sexuality was anathema at the time (although modern readers are unlikely to find anything offensive in the book). Farmer has expanded the original story to create a beleivable background. A perfectionist may complain over minor detalils; for instance why are the local aliens only a few centuries behind the humans in technology, when both have evolved in a 15-billion year old galaxy (a common paradox in science fiction) ? Actually, technology transfer between the failed human colony and the locals would explain the narrow technology gap between humans and aliens, but Farmer misses the opportunity to explain the paradox. The near simultaneous evolution of two different intelligent alien species on Ozagen seems rather far-fetched, and would require a better explanation then mere coincidence. Another problem is the ability of local symbiotic species to easily adapt to the human presence. Farmer could have elaborated more on this detail, but all in all, the biology is convincing.
The literary treatment of the aliens in the book as different, but morally equal beings (neither monsters nor idealised noble entities) is a hallmark of Farmer's humanitarian values. In the end, the aliens with their inferior technology turn the tables on the humans, simply by relying on human arrogance; although the leaders of the expedition are paranoid towards their human subjects, they do not expect the simple locals to outwit them.
My minor objections are trivial in the context of a story that dates back to the fifties, and still remains a gripping tale of passion, rebellion and grief. The plot could easily have become a cliché, but Farmer injects new life in old ideas. Not much of the science fiction written today will still feel this fresh a generation from now.