This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Thanks to monumental works like Ash: A Secret History and 1610: A Sundial In a Grave, people seem to expect Mary Gentle books to be big fat bricks of approximately a thousand pages long these days. Thus, it’s not too surprising to see two of her early novels and a short story collected together as Orthe: Chronicles of Carrick V. These constitute her writings about the titular world, and when lashed together form a volume which happily for marketing purposes seems to be about as substantial as any of her later stacks of paper. But is it worth the effort? Only one way to find out…
Lynne Christie is a British-born envoy from the Dominion of Earth, which having discovered a viable faster-than-light drive a mere generation ago is expanding diplomatic contacts rapidly across inhabited space. Carrick V, known as Orthe to its inhabitants, is a world on the edge of the galactic core, whose inhabitants have a low-tech way of life and at least a superficial similarity to human beings. Having been trained for contact with pre-technological societies, Christie is sent to assess the world’s readiness for long-term diplomatic contact and trade and come up with advice on how interactions should proceed.
What Christie and her superiors do not know, however, is that Orthe is not a pre-technological world, but a post-holocaust environment. Moreover, nobody has realised that the Ortheans have vivid dreams of past lives – interpreted by them as a sign that they reincarnate, but potentially the result of a curious sort of inherited memory process. And in their dreams of the past the Ortheans recall the Golden Witchbreed, whose high-tech Empire ruled over them as an absolute tyranny for aeons. When political factions within Orthean society try to have Christie discredited – and maybe even executed – as an agent of the Golden Witchbreed, Christie finds she will have to master the way of things on Orthe quickly if she is to survive the accusation.