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Dry Pilgrimage

The Bernice Summerfield Adventures (Virgin) #13
Robert Smith?

In brief: Not too shabby. Another solid entry in the Bernice canon.

I'm a little bemused by Dry Pilgrimage. It's quite an interesting read and everything works quite well, yet I look back on it and nothing particularly leaps out at me. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because I certainly enjoyed the book while I went through it, but like the action within, there is little sense of importance in the bigger picture.

Oddly this is the first Benny book set solely on Dellah. It's a pity that very little use is actually made of that setting, since this is one of our first views of any significant amount of the planet outside the university. There are a few references to the various governments that deal with the politics of the planet, but we don't get much of a sense of what the planet is really like.

Like the previous month's book, interesting use is made of Benny's tendency to rely on alcohol. I've never been convinced that Benny was an alcoholic and that much of it is posturing. Putting her in a situation where she can't drink has the potential to really explore a major facet of her character.

Unfortunately, the idea doesn't really go anywhere. Benny is forbidden to drink, but manages to overcome this rather easily. I find this less than wholly satisfying. I was all set for an interesting exploration of Bernice's character, yet this was too quickly dealt with by the authors. I think I'd much rather have seen Bernice actually have to cope without alcohol for the period of the voyage and see what the absence does to her.

The Saraani seem to be a stock standard Leonard alien race: interesting characteristics, a well-though out sense of culture that's different from our own, but not too different and no more than three interesting individuals in that race. This creation has been done so often before that here is works like a well-oiled machine. The cover illustration also seems to run in the same mould as almost ever other Leonard cover. It's a pity that the alien appears to be the same height as Bernice, though: he's supposed to tower over her!

Nick Walters seems to have made quite an impressive debut. It's sometimes hard to distinguish individuals in co-authored books, but I think the merging has helped Paul Leonard's style enormously. The interesting parts of his writing are all there, but Walters has restrained the worst excesses of it (specifically his over-reliance on stream of consciousness oh god it hurts it hurts i can't believe it trick, which thankfully only appears when absolutely necessary). The ending is also better than most Leonard novels, so I'm quite looking forward to seeing more from Nick Walters in the future.

My favourite character (aside from Benny, of course) is probably Professor Smith. This makes it doubly frustrating that he only really starts to work quite late in the novel. This is a great character and his whole narrative style is absolutely wonderful. I'd love to see him return, but I'm not sure how well other authors would do with his character. It's a real shame we never got to see this earlier in the novel as it might have livened up some of the earlier sections.

I'm a little confused as to why some of the Saraani weren't sterilised. When we find out who is responsible, it makes no sense for only some of the race to be sterile. I was also quite shocked at the very end of the novel when Bernice laments the death of all the other students and lecturers on board. I think this might have been a little more effective if we'd had some sort of mention of these people before this time. Right up until that point, I was under the impression that there were only the Saraani and the major human characters on board.

Benny also seems to recover awfully quickly from her accident. That is, once she begins the recovery, she seems back to her old self in almost no time, with only one further reference later in the book. On this note, I think I would have liked to see her tough it out from the position of being temporarily paralysed for longer than we did see. Like the lack of alcohol I think this would have allowed for a better character exploration than we got. As it is, she seems to be constantly suffering hardships for a while, only to have those hardships conveniently dissipate after a while. Yes, Benny lives a miraculous life, but I think it doesn't hurt to show that this doesn't apply to absolutely every situation she gets in.

I'm also not all that keen on Donimo. Bernice's separation from Jason and her possession of the whole book line doesn't mean she has to turn into archaeology's version of Jim Kirk. Benny had about two love interests while she travelled with the Doctor (Jason and Guy as far as I can remember) but these days she seems to pick up a temporary love interest every other book. I wouldn't mind if this threatened to turn into something a bit more permanent once in a while, but I'm starting to get the feeling that every non-Jason love interest she gets will be well and truly out of the way by the end of each novel.

That said, I thought the first chapter with Theo was wonderful. Having a lovesick and completely ineffectual admirer of Bernice was a great way to introduce things, as well as appeal to the lovesick admirer in myself. I was especially pleased that this merely set things up without requiring a contrived way for Benny to get involved in things she would be unlikely to get involved in.

Overall, despite a number of nits, I quite liked Dry Pilgrimage. It's a great self-contained adventure that contents itself with telling a tale. While I'd prefer to see events on a larger tapestry or to see more of a character exploration of Bernice, I can't fault it for doing what it sets out to do.