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I've said before that the novella is possibly my favourite length for science fiction; it has space enough for characters and ideas and themes to develop, but is short enough that there is little room for laziness or padding. This year so far, though, has been something of a disappointment. With the exception of Gregory Feeley's magnificently lush 'Arabian Wine' (Asimov's April/May), nothing I've read has really caught my imagination - and two of the other offerings from Asimov's (R Garcia Y Robertson's 'Long Voyage Home' (February) and Allen Steele's 'Incident at Goat Kill Creek' (April/May)) have been distinctly sub-standard.

What else have I seen? Ian McDowell's 'Under The Flag of Night' (Asimov's March) is a fun, but somewhat lightweight, voodoo-pirate-romp; and George Mann's The Human Abstract (Telos) is good, but perhaps owes a few too many debts to its antecedents to be truly notable in its own right. I've still got it in my mind to seek out Gary Greenwood's The Jigsaw Men (PS), and I'll get around to reading 'The Concrete Jungle', the new novella in the Golden Gryphon edition of Charles Stross' The Atrocity Archives, real soon now...but at the moment, the Feeley stands alone.

Or did until just now, at any rate. In June, SCIFICTION published 'Shadow Twin', a novella by Gardner Dozois, George RR Martin and Daniel Abraham. I read it this evening. Now, three authors all putting their names to the same story might usually inspire concern, along broth-spoiling lines. However, when one of the authors is Dozois - freshly back to fiction after handing over the reins to Asimov's - and another is Martin - who seems to inspire fanaticism almost as rabid as that for the other guy with two Rs as middle initials - and when the story appears in a venue as respected as SCIFICTION, well, then the result is actually that my curiosity is piqued. And as it turns out, such curiosity is worthwhile; 'Shadow Twin' is not as good as 'Arabian Wine', but it is good. Possibly very good.

The slightly old-fashioned premise is this: on the recently colonised world of Sao Paolo, Ramon Espejo is a prospector, out staking his claim in the sparsely-populated mountains of the northern hemisphere. One of his exploratory blasts reveals a hidden population of aliens. This event represents, in fact, first contact for humanity, although Ramon is not the type to spare much consideration for the bigger picture, except where it can benefit him personally. The aliens capture him with ease - but it turns out that he's not the only human to have stumbled on their hideaway in the recent past. His predecessor, though, was more skilled, or luckier, and escaped. As a result, the aliens decide to use Ramon as a sort of sentient hunting dog. They have to catch the fugitive, they tell Ramon; if he makes it back to civilisation, they say, then their purpose will be 'disrupted', and their existence worthless.

One alien, Maneck, is assigned to Ramon as a handler, and the two are joined by a sort of biological leash, one that gives Maneck a limited view into Ramon's thoughts, and the abiilty to inflict pain to discipline his charge. Much of what follows is a classic one-on-one battle of wills. Maneck wishes to learn as much about humans as he can, in order to catch the fugitive; Ramon wishes to learn as much about the aliens as he can, in order to prevent the same thing.

As far as aliens go, the ones presented here are interesting, if not groundbreaking. Their behavioural patterns are obscure, but they are deeply concerned with order, and purpose - two things that Ramon conspicuously lacks. It is, however, in the contrast between Raomn, Maneck and the fugitive - who, naturally, turns out to be more than his reputation might suggest - that the power of 'Shadow Twin' becomes apparent. This is not a radically visionary future, or a dazzlingly original story (in fact, at root, the plot is perhaps no more than a metaphorical take on 'man goes up a mountain, man Finds Himself, man comes down the mountain') but there is power in the telling. Between them Dozois, Martin and Abraham weave these commonplace ideas into a perceptive, philosophical tale that I think has much to say about identity and self-understanding.

But, you know, two novellas in six months...if there are more out there that I've missed, I'd be glad to hear of them.

(Oh, and in case anyone was worried: no, you can't tell which author wrote which sections. And it seems to me that's as good a mark of a successful collaboration as any.)

(And you know, I was intending to write a review of Postscripts tonight, not this. Ah, well; so it goes...)
I don't know about his recent work - I really don't do multi-volume fantasy epics - but I found George RR Martin's work before getting eaten by Hollywood to be truly excellent. He produced a bumch of good short stories - my favourite is probably A Song for Lya - and a number of very good novels - my favourite is probably The Armageddon Rag.

I don't know if I'm rabidly fanatical, but GRRM is a very good writer. I only wish he was writing things on the same scale as his earlier books, rather than the vast fantasy doorstops. Then I might read some!
I've heard enough recommendations for A Song of Ice and Fire that I intend to read it...but enough stories about how long it's taking to write that I don't intend to start until the final volume is in bookshops. I was aware that he'd been known beforehand too, but this is (I think) the first work of his that I've read. I'll keep a look out for the titles you recommended.
I suspect they'll be hard to find, unless there's been a recent reprint or new collaction of GRRM's works.

I think the ICSF library does have some of them, if you're willing and able to join. The OUSFG library might have some, but I don't know its collection as well.
I suspect they'll be hard to find, unless there's been a recent reprint or new collection of GRRM's works.

A collection was published last summer. GRRM: a rretrospective is a large volume -- 1,000-odd pages -- but it's only available in a fairly pricey (US$60) hardcover edition.
I just read Shadow Twin. Enjoyed it, thanks for the rec. What I particularly liked about it was the poetic description of nature. That kind of tangentially supports its theme. I thought the characterisation was well done too: if it hadn't been, the whole thing would have fallen down.
I just read Shadow Twin. Enjoyed it, thanks for the rec.

You're welcome!

What I particularly liked about it was the poetic description of nature. That kind of tangentially supports its theme.

I'm not sure I quite follow this - could you elaborate?

I thought the characterisation was well done too: if it hadn't been, the whole thing would have fallen down.

Absolutely. I probably should have said that in the review - it's basically a character study of Ramon, with different aspects of his personality split off into different bodies. I liked the way the three central figures were balanced (and I liked the fact that the fugitive's identity was never really in doubt; that would have been far to obvious as a plot twist).
My first thought was that I liked the description of the sierras, nature in general, even though that wasn't really what the story was about. I thought it was a kind of nice but irrelevant ornamentation. or at most perhaps showing that there was something better inside Ramon that let him appreciate it.

Then I changed my mind; the relationship between Ramon and the wilderness - he doesn't make the mistake of thinking it's benign, but appreciated it as something that ought to exist - is a model for how he learned to relate to the aliens. Possibly.
Interesting point - not something I noticed at the time, but it certainly makes sense in reprospect. It means Ramon's 'rebirth' didn't come out of nowhere; it grounds the changes that happen to him in the person he was at the start of the story, and strengthens the connection between him and the fugitive.