Diana Reed Slattery,
The Maze Game
(Deep Listening, 2003)

The Maze Game seems to promise a grim future. Humans have achieved immortality, and found it to be far too long. A sentient computer named Oh-T'Bee manages every detail of necessary governance, with the help of a massive conglomeration of bureaucrats. At the core of this mechanized, immortal, apathetic society are the Dancers. Inspired by a religion of hallucinogenic lilies and random computer poetry, the mortal Dancers dedicate their lives to performing and dying for the bored Lifers. Through the lives of four of the doomed young Dancers, Diana Reed Slattery reveals a story of hope, cruelty and resonant beauty.

The four Dancers are straightforward, simple personalities trying to embody the clear-cut preferences of their various schools. Daede, T'Ling, MyrrhMyrrh and Angle work from passion, faith, anger and intellect, all bound together by the language of the Lily and by a carefully woven love knot. These primary-hued Dancers act against an elaborate and clearly planned civilization that highlights their simplicity. The mazes each plan to dance through are made of the culture's high language, Glide, a physical art uncomfortably bound to slavery and the hallucinogenic lilies that form the main faith of the society.

Much of the tale's solidity comes from the faith of the characters. The history and culture of entire worlds are represented in scarcely more than a dozen people, and each one is so completely sure of the rightness or destiny of their position that it's almost impossible to question their plans. The order of Oh-T'bee's civilization is so smooth and ingrained that when anyone, from the guilt-driven Dancemaster to the erratic Codger, tries to change the path of their culture, they soon deepen their ruts. This solidity of culture makes the eventual revolutions feel truly shocking, not some inevitable course of history.

Almost none of what drives this book should have worked. The culture of Dancers and Lifers is so alien to our own that the characters are barely human, but their concerns are so universal that even the villains become sympathetic. The plot is heavily driven by computer-generated oracles, which can be interested in so many ways they should be meaningless. Characters build their lives on visions and somehow find accurate knowledge in long gazes and koans. A story so dependent on chance poetry and unspoken assumptions should feel forced and artificial. The Maze Game comes together with the deceptive ease and unplanned inevitability of a spider's web. One wrong sentence would destroy the fragile beauty of the story, but Slattery never writes that wrong line.

The Maze Game is a picture of the balance between science and faith, change and security. While straining each of these elements to the tearing point, Slattery manages to make them meet for a solid and gripping conclusion. In the exhilaration and drama of The Maze Game, language becomes a dance that will burn itself into your mind.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 17 January 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.