Anne McCaffrey,
(Del Rey, 1967)

Restoree is one of Anne McCaffrey's lesser-known novels; written in 1967, it is an entrance into the science-fiction genre that earned her so many accolades. Unusually for her, it is self-contained, although it would lend itself to a sequel. It is an enjoyable read, if somewhat formulaic, but McCaffrey shows the germination of her talent for fleshing out believable characters, whether human or alien, whether on Earth or scattered among the galaxies.

The story centres on Sara, a self-conscious and down-trodden ugly duckling of a librarian, whom we encounter walking through Central Park after work. Her next conscious moment contains the gradual realisation that she is acting as a caregiver to an apparent moron, in a facility she does not recognise, slavishly following crude orders from brutal guards, in a world that is clearly not Earth. It becomes obvious that her charge is being deliberately doped into his automaton-like state and so Sara begins the slow and painfully dangerous process of denying him the drugged food, hoping that he will be able to organize an escape for them both on recovering his senses.

Harlan, the deposed planetary regent, regains his faculties and together they achieve an impulsive and daring escape, only to find that nowhere is safe for the fugitives, and his enemy has the rest of the ruling family in his devious clutches. There is high adventure, action, intrigue, romance, danger and deceit as the plot rapidly unfolds. Struggling to assimilate a strange culture, Sara is relatively unconcerned about the Mil, a formidable enemy that preys on the planet, harvesting its populace and devastating generation after generation. Only in the last century have the Lotharians managed, with the alliance of two other alien races similarly threatened, to achieve somewhat Pyrrhic victories over these interplanetary parasites. The exigencies of constant war with a more sophisticated assailant has led the Lotharian society to display areas of superior space technology in tandem with rather antediluvian land technology and advances in medicine stagnate from centuries of superstition under the omnipresent fear of the Mil.

Amid a decadent atmosphere of ambitious treachery and deadly deception, Sara is unexpectedly thrust to the forefront of the turbulent politics of the Lotharian nobility. Harlan has deduced that she is a restoree, rescued from the charnel tanks of the Mil by some unknown agency, her unattractive physiognomy miraculously altered and her body and mind restored after the certain physical and psychological trauma of capture by the Mil. As a restoree, she lives in fear of immediate execution without appeal; the Lotharian society has an established abhorrence of those rare victims who survive incarceration by the Mil and, to date, no native has escaped the experience sane. Under constant public scrutiny, her illiterate but rapidly expanding knowledge of the culture is no guarantee that she will not inadvertently make some inexcusable social gaffe. In terror of her own exposure, Sara also fears for Harlan's life as he is forced to race to battle the largest armada of Mil star ships ever to threaten Lothar, his only hope of planetary salvation a previously untried alien weapon.

In my opinion, McCaffrey's later stories improve and build on the foundation of Restoree, but it is an easy introduction to her work, and is a diverting if not totally enthralling read. Within the tale she alludes to certain facts of Earth technology that now seem very dated, but this is fiction, after all, and the comments do not detract from the overall entertainment. If you are already acquainted with Anne McCaffrey, this is an interesting comparison to her later work and an addition to your bookshelves that you will be drawn to read more than once. If you have not yet begun to read or acquire her prolific and excellent variety of series, then this light tale is an ideal chance to sample her style without committing to a run of some 16 books!

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 27 July 2002

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