Friday 20 May 2011

Restoree by Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey is of course most famous for writing the award-winning Dragonflight (first published as a novel in 1968) and the long series of sequels which followed it, although she has also written or co-authored several other series. I reviewed Dragonflight on this blog in February 2009 and enjoyed it just as much then as I first had when reading it in 1970 - it is one of the great classics of SFF.

Restoree is that rare thing for this author, a stand-alone novel with no sequels. It appeared in 1967 and was her first complete novel to be published. I still have my 1970 copy on my shelf and recalled enjoying it so I proposed it as one of the monthly reads for the Classic Science Fiction discussion group.

The story focuses on Sara, a capable but physically unattractive young woman who is suddenly snatched from Central Park in New York after glimpsing a vast aircraft looming overhead. What follows is so traumatic that it causes her to go into deep shock, from which she slowly recovers with only a general memory of unimaginable agony and horror. She finds herself in an isolated medical clinic, acting as a sort of robotic nurse to a man who is being kept drugged. She gradually realises that she is on an alien planet called Lothar, inhabited by humans. She has been taught enough of the language to follow simple instructions but, like the rest of the nurses, is regarded as a moron. What shocks her more than anything is that her appearance has been transformed - she is now beautiful.

She conceals her recovery and discovers that the man she is looking after, Harlan, is the Regent of the planet. She becomes convinced that those running the clinic are evil, so she surreptitiously sabotages the administration of Harlan's drugs and helps him to escape. The rest of the novel is concerned with countering a political plot to seize control of the government and also with facing up to the deadly threat of the Mil - a spacefaring alien race with a taste for flesh who had hunted the people of Lothar for millennia and who were also responsible for abducting Sara from Earth. During the course of all this, Harlan and Sara fall in love but there are complications, since the Lotharians have a visceral loathing for any captive of the Mil who has been physically restored to health - and Sara is a restoree.

This is a generally straightforward, fast-paced adventure story but it has its darker aspects, especially the ambigious figure of Monsorlit, the surgeon who knows Sara's secret and keeps reappearing to threaten her. Some US readers may be put off by the fact that the novel seems to have been marketed in that country as a romance (with an appropriately embarrassing cover), but although the developing relationship between Sara and Harlan runs through the story, it is generally dealt with in an amusing way with few slushy moments. Sara is a resourceful and likeable heroine who proves well able to look after herself: in fact, the story was apparently motivated by the author's irritation about the subservient way in which women were usually portrayed in SF.

I enjoyed reading the story again after forty years but I have to admit that was in large part down to nostalgia as there are some issues with the background setting and general credibility by current standards; most obviously, how Lothar came to be populated by humans is blithely ignored. In mitigation, the story is told in the first person by Sara so we get her subjective viewpoint and, given the constant stress she was under, she had other things to think about. It is also worth recalling that this was written at much the same time as the original Star Trek TV series, in which many planets turned out to be inhabited by humans who thought and acted much as we do!

This is a lightweight tale not in the same league as Dragonflight, but it is still an enjoyable story if you can suspend disbelief sufficiently to overlook the flaws.


Fred said...

I read _Restoree_ several months ago, partially out of curiosity to see whether it had held up as well.

I was puzzled by it, for something just didn't work for me this time. I'm not sure what it was, but perhaps it was the missing background that bothered me. I felt the same way when I reread _The Crystal Singer_ and _The Ship Who Sang_. Good ideas--but something was lacking.

Whatever it was, her Pern series, although I tired of them, seemed more solid to me. Her fantasy had a solidity to them that her SF lacked, or so it seemed to me.

Bill Garthright said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one, Tony. Maybe I was expecting too much...

Anthony G Williams said...

Fred, the fantasy vs SF issue is an interesting one here. Arguably, all of McCaffrey's work straddles the two. The Pern books feel like fantasies, probably because they include intelligent dragons, but there is a token gesture towards tying them into a future history.

The fact that they feel like fantasies probably deflects what would otherwise be criticism of their impossibilities: not just giant flying dragons, but teleporting ones too!

Restoree is closer to SF, so there may be less tolerance of the plot issues and logical problems.

Anastasia said...

Hi! Let me introduce myself. I found your blog because of your review of Tanith Lee's Birthgrave. (Looking back at that review, I can answer one question for you. I read a new slightly revised edition that came out last year, and there, Tanith Lee says that the woman was asleep in the volcano for 600 years.) I'm also a huge fan of Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire series. Next I have a question for you. I've heard of Anne McCaffrey, but I thought it was fantasy and always dismissed it as "too popular, couldn't possibly be good" (I made the same mistake with Lois McMaster Bujold, and boy, was that a mistake), but now I keep seeing her name on GoodReads "best SF" lists, so I'm curious.

What do you think is the best book of hers for me to read? Restoree sounds interesting. Should I start there, or try one of the series? I don't want to make a mistake and cross the author off my list. Thanks in advance!

Anthony G Williams said...

Hi Anastasia,

In my opinion (and bearing in mind that I haven't read all of her books) McCaffrey has written one true classic: Dragonflight. That's among my favourite novels and I would recommend it to anyone. I've reviewed it on this blog. Some of the sequels are good, but obviously lack the same originality.

As to whether you will like her other books, I can't really say. But I'd definitely start with Dragonflight and follow your nose from there.