I Remember Pallahaxi

by Michael G. Coney
Series: Pallahaxi 2
Reviewed date: 2019 Nov 15
Rating: 4
260 pages
cover art

Browneyes and Drove survived the great freeze.

Same Love Story
Generations later their descendents have repopulated the planet. Coney tells us a familiar story: Hardy, a young boy from an inland village, falls in love with Charm, a girl from a seaside community. Their families disapprove. The two young people learn how to navigate their feelings, they suffer tremendous loss, they grow and mature--and everything is happening against the backdrop of a coming Great Freeze.

In the first book, the strange planet and the coming apocalypse were the setting for the poignant love story. But this time, the teenage love story is a vehicle to reveal the mysteries of the planet. Who are these people? How did they survive the Great Freeze? How do the lorin fit in? Coney reveals all.

New World Order
Hardy and Charm's world differs in fundamental ways from the world of Browneyes and Drove.

Stilk
The people call themselves the stilk. The planet is still unnamed.

Agrarian
The world of Browneyes and Drove had achieved an industrial revolution and was advanced to a point similar to mid-nineteenth century Earth. They had cities, factories, roads, motorcars, guns, a parliamentary system of government, and the ability to wage war on a planet-wide scale. Hardy and Charm live in an agrarian society where the largest settlement is a small village. There are no factories. They have some alcohol-powered motorcars, but those are left over from before the last Great Freeze.

Man-chief and Woman-chief
Each stilk village is split into two parts: the men's village and the women's village. The men are ruled by the man-chief, the women by the woman-chief. The men and women cooperate and work together, but do not live together.

Stardreaming
Not only is the society different, the stilk themselves have changed. Memories are passed on genetically from parent to child: boys inherit their father's memories, girls their mother's. The memories can be accessed by entering a trance-like state called stardreaming--usually aided by smoking a mild drug. Unlike human memories, stilk memories are crystal clear and as vivid as the original experience itself. No detail is lost. Stilk have children as late in life as possible, in order to pass along the most memories. With the cultural emphasis on memories, books and writing have become extinct. Crime is low--when memories are never lost and every experience will be accessed and re-played by countless subsequent generations, nobody dares to commit a crime. Besides the simple fact that nobody could get away with it, nobody wishes to inflict upon their children and grandchildren the guilt and shame that comes with the memory of a crime.

The Lorin
The lorin are still around. They seem unchanged by the ages. The stilk are incurious about them. Suspiciously incurious. It's like they hardly even notice the lorin, even though they're everywhere. Even when humans ask pointed questions about the lorin, the response is a blank look and a bland statement about how the lorin are just a part of the world.

Humans
Oh yeah, there are humans on the planet now. They arrived in spaceships and made a deal with the local stilk for some mining rights. The humans have a non-intervention policy and generally stay out of the way. But when the winters get longer and colder and the crops start to fail, Hardy's village asks the humans for help. Some food, or maybe some technology? No dice--the mining operation is losing money and so the humans are leaving, and even if they weren't, the non-intervention policy wouldn't permit them to help in any meaningful way. Really, the only reason humans are around is to explain things in a big infodump when Coney decides it's time to reveal the big secret.

The Big Secret
The stilk are not native to the planet. They are genetically engineered forms of kikihuahua. The kikihuahua are a space-faring race that travel the galaxy in giant living space-bats (yeah, that's what Coney calls them, space-bats. The kikihuahua space-bats are "a thousand kilometers across and they’re propelled by the effect of solar winds." The space-bats are slow, so "[the] space-bat feeds them some kind of soporific fluid and they go into hibernation for the duration of the voyage." Oooh-kay then.)

Unlike humans, who use technology to bend the galaxy to fit them, the kikihuahua change themselves to fit the conditions they find. The kikihuahua turned themselves into stilk and lorin. But that's not all. They turned the space-bats into enormous underground creatures called cave-cows. During the Great Freeze, the lorin gather up the stilk and they all go underground into the cave-cows where they hibernate for forty years.

It might be stupid
When I write it all down like that, it sounds stupid. Even when Coney tells it, it's kind of stupid. I'm not sure what I expected, but space-bats and cave-cows are dumb. Also, it's kind of a cheat to build up the mystery for most of the book, and then have the humans suddenly, for the very first time, describe the kikihuahuas and explain the origin of the stilk and the lorin.

Human Words in a Stilk World
One thing that bothered me was human words in a stilk world. Hardy coins the term cave-cow, but a cow is an Earth animal. He should have called it a cave-lox. And the stilk religion claims all living creatures were created by a god called the goatparent. Again, goats are from Earth. No stilk has ever heard of a goat.

It may seem silly to quibble about cows and goats but not to get upset by references to birds and fish and trees. But birds and fish and trees are generic, and it's easy to assume that the birds and fish are similar but not identical to those found on Earth. Cows and goats are specific. It's jarring and confusing.

Magic Lorin
OK, so remember how the lorin and the stilk survive the Great Freeze by hibernating underground inside the cave-cow? Well, also the lorin are magical telepaths. Even the presence of a lorin can mess with one's subjective experience of time. I.e., the lorin can induce the time-dilation effects of hiberation by the power of their minds, without the need for any cave-cow. Coney doesn't explain this at all, but it's used at least twice as a major plot point. It makes no sense.

Stardreaming Errors
A bigger problem is that Coney makes repeated errors in his descriptions of stardreaming. He is very specific about how memories are inherited: it's genetic. A son inherits his father's memories up to the moments shortly before conception; likewise, a girl inherits her mother's memories. Through stardreaming, stilk can access these ancestral memories back for generations. Stilk deliberately conceive late in life in order to pass on more memories.

So it's clearly a mistake, then, when Hardy is stardreaming of a specific incident and shifts from his father's viewpoint to his grandfather's viewpoint.

And Dad’s vision suddenly clouded. The memory shimmered and grew hazy. A strong compulsion entered my mind: Move away. Keep off. Go.

Geas.

Dad had put the memory under geas, and I couldn’t probe any further without betraying his trust in me and my descendants. Did it matter? I wasn’t particularly interested in Uncle Stance’s coming-of-age, but I’d have liked to know what tidbit of family history he’d unearthed.

Was it something scandalous in Granddad’s past? Something worse than the begetting of the Nowhere Man? I slipped into Granddad’s memories and visited the same scene.

And the same thing happened.

Granddad had put the incident under geas too.

Hardy could not possibly have both sets of memories. If his father was present at the event, he could not have inherited memories about that event from his grandfather. This isn't a one-time slip-up, either. There are other mistakes like this. I can only surmise that Coney was revising the story and did not have time to correct all the errors before he died.

The Murder Mystery
Allow me one more quibble with the story. Early in the book someone makes several unsuccessful attempts to murder Hardy, and succeeds in murdering Hardy's father. Hardy first accuses a boy from Charm's village of the crime, but he can't prove the boy's guilt. As the story progresses, Hardy uncovers clues leading him to suspect someone from his own village.

Now, remember that among the stilk, crime is rare because the prospect of one's descendents knowing the intimate details of the crime is a major deterrent. So right off the bat, if we were looking for murder suspects, we might look at those people who have already had children and are therefore in no danger of passing on their memories.

Next, consider that Hardy's grandfather was murdered years ago. So it appears there's someone with a grievance against the family. Perhaps someone in the family.

It's Hardy's Uncle Stance. Uncle Stance has a secret that he's willing to kill for: he cannot stardream. He has no ancestral memories. Stance murdered his father to preserve the secret, and he murdered his brother when he suspected he was about to be outed. And Stance tries repeatedly to murder Hardy as well.

It's a petty, mundane affair. In the end, it means nothing. It would be one thing if Stance's disability revealed something about the origin of the stilk and the lorin, but it doesn't. It's just a meaningless, boring, utterly ordinary bit of evil.

The final verdict
Despite my complaints, it's a good book. It's above average. It's not at the same level as the first book, but it was good.


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