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Book Review: Wings of Creation by Brenda Cooper

Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition
Publication Date: November 10, 2009
ISBN-10: 0765320959
ISBN-13: 978-0765320957
Author Website: Brenda Cooper

Wings of Creation is Brenda Cooper’s third solo novel, and continues the story of a misfit family of genetically altered humans living on a world having an aversion to all alterations of the human genome. In this third story, the entire family unit is headed off planet to their original homeworld of Silver’s Home. But political circumstances force them to change course to Lopali.

Lopali is a low-gravity world, and many of the humans who live there were genetically altered to have flight. With their wondrous wings, the Lopali citizens fill the skies with beauty. But there is a price to pay. The Lopali are sterile and are dependent on a company on Silver’s Home to give them more children. Joseph and his mentor Marcus must use their ability to read the wind streams of data that floats through the air of all the technology advanced civilizations of the Five Worlds and alter the very fabric of the Lopali’s genetic code. In exchange, they are to receive the Lopali’s assistance when the growing war between Silver’s Home and the fundamentalist planet of Islas.

Though I had not read the first two books, the short prologue at the beginning and the early conversations between characters are enough to give the setting and context of the story, though Cooper does a poor job (from a newcomer’s perspective) of getting the personality of the character’s across. Joseph, Alicia and Chelo are easy to understand, but their perspectives drive the entire novel. The other, supplemental characters are stock and have little form, passing each other like strangers in the night. To be fair, however, it is highly likely that these “stock” characters are not so two-dimensional, it is just that their dimensions were developed in previous novels, to which I am unable to attest.

Cooper is a futurist, and her philosophical bent is fairly evident in the story. The story of Lopali’s people is a thinly veiled analogy for much that is going on culturally and politically in the world today full of oversimplified solutions. Though Cooper makes a compelling argument for her point of view, the careful reader will easily identify the parts of the narrative that are story – the stuff that entertains – and the parts that are nothing more than Cooper making a point about a particular issue. But such tales are not necessarily bad storytelling, or else no one would read the work of C. S. Lewis.

I did like Cooper’s world. It shares a lot on common with some of the Van Rijn stories of Poul Anderson, or the stories of planetary exploration by Andre Norton. It is scientifically based, fulfills one of the most basic dreams of humanity – that of self-powered flight – and does not depict its citizenry as monolithic in form, function, or goals. It explores deep issues while being fairly entertaining, and also maintains a sense of wonder about space travel and human technological advancement.

The story itself was unexciting to me, as I simply could not connect deeply with the characters. Joseph was an overly feminized male, being exceptionally empathetic in such a way that he indistinguishable from the tow female points of view. His sister – also empathetic in her demeanor – is a fairly interesting character who is mother, wife, and a sister who looks at the bigger picture that the gifted Joseph seems blind to. Joseph’s lover Alicia is a risk-taker, and Cooper does a good job of making her loyalties to the family unit thin, and in doing so creating a bit of tension in the tale.

Cooper explores what it means to be human by exploring what isn’t and in doing so does more to illuminate the human condition than any bit of “realistic” fiction ever could. However, I felt the story was overlong, dragging in the parts when Cooper pauses to have debates about what they are doing or having experiences of Zen among the beauty of Lopali. The lack of any significant element to create suspense (most of the suspense is implied from the previous novels rather than directly created in the novel itself) makes this a slow read. I think that Cooper posits some interesting questions in Wings of Creation, but the narrative is ultimately just a pause before a storm, getting he characters too a point where the action and suspense really start. Wings of Creation simply has a bad case of “middle book” syndrome, and readers would do well to read its predecessors first.