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Rainbow Man by M. J. Engh

Rainbow Man

by M. J. Engh

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Rainbow Man, M.J. Engh's third and latest (but not-very-recent) novel, is just as interesting as her prior efforts. Arslan was about a harsh dictator in a troubled world. Wheel of Winds told the story of a woman circling her planet, twice. While the two were substantially different, both offered credible, down-to-earth characters dealing with life in extraordinary situations, and with a fair admixture of philosophy.

Rainbow Man deals with a woman who gives up her home on a starship to spend some time groundside, on a planet with unusual traditions. Bimran is extraordinarily pleasant, but of course has a dark secret of strict policies. It's all interesting, but in this case, Engh doesn't pull it off quite as well. There's a lot of discussion of the nature of god(s), good, and nature. But here it feels awkward. It's as if, rather than reading a speculative story, you're sitting in on series of earnest debates. The ideas are interesting, but not particularly novel. And rather than being intriguing ornament to the personal story, it feels more as if the personal side is an excuse for speculation on metaphysics. It's readable, but after a while stops being much fun. This is worsened by an ending that, while partly satisfying, leaves a fairly substantial number of loose ends.

All in all, it's still a good book, but one that feels more like a draft than a finished product. I'm sorry to say it, because Engh's other books are terrific, and I'd love to see more of her work. Here's hoping that she gives up on Roman history (her other pursuit), and comes back to speculative fiction soon.

( )
  BMorrisAllen | May 14, 2013 |
This was an unexpected treat. I didn't expect much of the novel--it had sat on my bookshelf for years unread waiting for me to get to it. It's by an author I not only had never read, but never heard of--bought probably because the novel was shortlisted in the Promethean Awards. The narrative style and structure was simple and smooth, I liked the voice of the first person narrator, and above all I liked how this was very much a novel of ideas.

This book is very much set in a universe of Einstein Relativistic Physics without such devices as Faster Than Light travel--that's important, because space travel means that once you've left a planet for all intents and purposes you can't ever go back. Before much time has passed on board an interstellar ship, everyone on the planet you left behind would be dead. Thus leaving or staying on a planet has important consequences.

The narrator, Liss, is a starshipper looking to settle down, and she liked the look of Bimran, a planet that claimed it had no law. As a native puts it, it's a planet with "no war, no government oppression, no famines, no plagues, no overpopulation." But there's a dark side, hinted at right from the start when to her bemusement she finds out when registering at Migration Control--the seemingly only governmental organization--that as an infertile woman she's defined as a man. And with her colorful attire in a place where the natives affect shades of black and brown, she finds herself known at sight as "Rainbow Man."

The planet doesn't seem to have religion either--but that proves deceptive. What it has is a religion with Revelations and Commandments but without ritual and without a belief in Hell or Heaven--or more precisely they don't believe in leaving that up to God in some afterlife and that has chilling consequences. I don't think the novel came across as didactic, but the way it played with ideas about arguments for God from design, the problem of evil and suffering given a just God and monotheism made me think of arguments I've read in books by C.S. Lewis. The novel provides a thoughtful critique not just of theism but gender relations and sexual morality through the system of the world of Bimran and the events of the book. I liked how Engh handled the slow and ultimately shocking reveal of the nature of this society. I'd definitely would be happy to read more of the author. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Mar 8, 2012 |
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To my brother (experimentally).
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I was the Rainbow Man.
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Liss has chosen the peaceful planet of Bimran, but because she was surgically steralized she is defined as a "man."

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