by Michael G. Coney
Series: Pallahaxi 1
Reviewed date: 2019 Mar 31
Rating: 4
189 pages
Original title Hello Summer, Goodbye
Alternate title Pallahaxi Tide
cover art
cover art

Rax is a beautiful story of boyhood and growing up, of love and loss. The mood is melancholy and the story is poignant. This may be the best book I've read in two years.

Drove is a young teenage boy from the inland town of Alika. His father is a Parl, that is, he works for the government. His status gives him privileges such as permission to buy fuel for a small alcohol-powered steam car, even though fuel is strictly rationed due to the war. As the book opens, the family piles into the car for their annual summer vacation to the seaside town of Pallahaxi.

Quickly we learn that although these people are very human-like, this is not Earth and they are not human. In particular, the people are susceptible to a form of madness induced by cold. City streets are dotted with public heaters with the way an Earth city might have streetlights. Drove's Aunt Zu had to be institutionalized after she spent a night exposed to the cold outdoors. Drove himself survived a cold night only because he was rescued by a lorin.

The lorin are a semi-intelligent species that also inhabits the planet. The lorin are harmless but inscrutable and mysterious. They do not speak but often watch humans and mimic them. The lorin show up several times throughout the book and it's clear they play a key role in this alien world.

The world (unnamed) is industrialized roughly equivalent to mid-nineteenth century Earth. They are also locked in perpetual war. Drove lives in Erto which has been at war with Asta for, well, forever.

In Pallahaxi Drove falls in love with Browneyes, the daughter of a local tavern owner. Drove's parents disapprove and try to set him up with a playmate in the form of Wolff, the son of another Parl vacationing in Pallahaxi. Drove dislikes Wolff but must accept his companionship. They meet Ribbon and Squint, whose father is a well-respected Pallahaxi community leader, and the group have a great time--sailing, hiking, exploring--just generally being kids. Drove's biggest problem is that he somehow keeps paying attention to Ribbon, which makes Browneyes jealous. Pallahaxi is a long way from the war front and it seems a world away from Alika and Parliament's war.

It's not, though. The war is going badly and it's affected even sleepy Pallahaxi. The government has built a cannery just outside the town, and has demanded the fishermen give the bulk of their catch to the new facility. The food is needed for the war effort, to feed the inland towns. Further, the government has repeatedly promised but failed to deliver steam cannons to protect Pallahaxi from Astan warships. The locals are discontented and angry. It's a volatile situation.

Phu and Rax, and the Grume
Summer passes and the sea grows thicker. This world orbits the great sun Phu in a highly eccentric orbit and has an axis tilted 90 degrees. Further, the world has a single large continent spanning both hemispheres, with polar oceans connected by a narrow sea. Thus, when the planet swings near the sun, the shallow polar oceans evaporate--first one, then the other. The resulting thick liquid is called the grume, and it flows from one end of the narrow sea to the other (depending on which polar ocean is evaporating at the moment.) The grume is so thick that even fish find themselves unable to stay underwater, and fishermen can simply scoop up huge catches off the surface. Of course, typical boats can't operate on the thick grume, so they have specially-designed skimmers to use when the grume is running.

All this orbital mechanics is told in a relatively clumsy infodump, where someone pulls Drove aside and explains things to him for no discernable reason. It's one of the few criticisms I have of the book.

Also, there's a giant planet named Rax, which we know will become significant because they use its name as a swear word and because the book's title is Rax.

Trouble at the New Cannery
One day Squint wanders off and disappears. His father rallies the whole community into a search party, and they follow Squint's trail to the new cannery. But the soldiers at the cannery are implacable. No, the citizens of Pallaxi may not search the cannery. The citizens are enraged. Now it becomes apparent that the cannery is more than just a cannery.

The war is going very badly. Parliament abandons Alika and sets up a new capital in Pallahaxi. In the new cannery. Well, underneath it. The cannery is a real cannery, but underneath is a fortified underground bunker stuffed with decades' worth of canned fish and distilled fuel. Parliament and the Regent intend to ride out the coming apocalypse.

The apocalypse isn't the war, though. The war was real at one time, but now it's a sham. The governments of Erto and Asta have both discovered a grim fact: their eccentric orbit is about to get much, much worse. Rax is going to wrest the planet away from Phu, and they won't see another summer--or indeed, the sun--for another forty years. The Parliament of Erto has their bunker in Pallahaxi; the Astans have made similar arrangements.

Parls betray the People
The arrangements are only for the Parls, though. Not the general public. Drove's father drags him to the bunker, but Browneyes and all the citizens of Pallahaxi are locked out. Soldiers patrol the fenced perimeter around the cannery and fight off attacking bands of citizens as the nights grow ever longer and ever colder. Ribbon freezes to death. Her mother freezes to death. Her father freezes to death. Browneyes hangs on to life and Drove visits her very day at the fence--him on the inside, her outside--but one day she fails to appear.

Back in the underground bunker, Drove and his family are warm and safe. Eventually, once the threat from marauding citizens is over, the soldiers are dispensible--and they are left outside to die as well. And, surprise, not just the soldiers. It turns out Drove's father is not important enough either; he and his family are turned out.

The Lorin
Drove wonders. The lorin saved him from the cold once. Is that how people survive the long night? He leaves the bunker and walks out into the cold to look for the lorin and his love, Browneyes.

Hello Summer, Goodbye
The book was first published as Hello Summer, Goodbye. That title fits the story. We meet Drove at the start of a summer of boyhood and carefree fun, and see him through to the end where he must say goodbye. Summer is ended, boyhood is over, his first love is dead, and the whole planet is dead or dying. Everything and everybody he knows is gone forever.

Hello Summer, Goodbye isn't a particularly science-fictiony title, though, hence the name Rax for the DAW paperback. That title telegraphs the ending a bit too much, so I like the title Pallahaxi Tide that was chosen for the first Canadian edition.

Josh Kirby cover art
The cover art for the DAW paperback is well done, but doesn't reflect the story. It makes me think "tragic fantasy quest" not "poignant coming-of-age science fiction apocalypse." I almost didn't read it. I'm glad I did.

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