Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
|Author:||George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle|
|Publisher(s):||Simon and Schuster / Bantam Spectra|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Science Fantasy|
|Release Date:||1981 / 2001|
In recent months I have read The Windsingers by Megan Lindholm (an omnibus edition which collected together the first three novels – Harpy’s Flight, The Windsingers and Limbreth Gate – all published between 1983 – 1984) and reread the original Wizard of Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin (again an omnibus edition which collected together The Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore published between 1968 and 1972). It is important that I read both works as trilogies collected together in one volume (though in both cases the trilogies now extend beyond a mere three books) as both share striking similarities with Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle.
Our first resemblance is that Windhaven is also, effectively, a trilogy collected together into one volume; it brings together three novellas, Storms (first published in Analog in 1975), One Wing (first published in Analog in 1980) and The Fall which was written for the collected edition when it was published in 1981; along with a prologue and an epilogue.
The novel is set on the fictional planet Windhaven whose inhabitants are the descendants of human space voyagers who crash-landed on Windhaven centuries before the events of the book take place. (Technically the novel could be classified as science fiction, though I would classify it as fantasy for reasons that will become apparent.) After the crash, the survivors spread out across the many islands of Windhaven and settled. The planet is primarily oceanic though, and to keep communication going across across the vast seas between these spread out islands, the survivors constructed mechanically simplistic gliding rigs or ‘wings’ from the solar sails of the spaceship, which could be kept aloft by human pilots almost indefinitely in Windhaven’s extremely windy atmosphere. (The “flyers” though resemble the flying man of Leonardo Da Vinci’s ancient diagrams and the science behind these ‘wings’ is so tenuous that I think describing this novel as science fiction is pushing it.) At the time this novel is set, Windhaven’s “flyers” have developed into an elite class of their own, above the laws of the land-bound. Additionally, the flyer class maintains ownership of the wings by keeping them within dynastic flyer families and, therefore, none of Windhaven’s people aside from those born into flyer families can legitimately aspire to ever wear them.
Into this set up comes our heroine Maris, a fisherman’s daughter who is adopted by a flyer and is taught how to fly. She is a natural, far more skilled than most flyers but tradition dictates that she has to relinquish her wings to her stepbrother, Col, as he is her adopted father’s true son. Col is a weak flyer though, absolutely petrified of taking to the sky, and he wants nothing more than to be a singer. What follows is a tale of class struggle and privilege versus ability. Maris challenges the traditions with her radical ideas that skill should win over birth-right. But as Maris finds out, tradition is hard to overturn. The flyers are prejudiced and disdainful towards the land-bound, while the perceived arrogance of the flyers has similarly made the land-bound resentful to them. It is also a pertinent metaphor on the cultural, racial and religious conflicts of our own world. In the early 80s, racial segregation in the US was still very fresh in people’s memories, and apartheid was still in place in South Africa, resentment from both sides was still very much evident. Martin and Tuttle were not just writing a ‘fantasy’ but also providing a commentary on social issues, ones that are not just relevant to the early 80s, but also to our 21st century world.
George RR Martin is one of my favourite fantasy writers so I was intrigued to read an early novel by him (even if it was in collaboration with another writer that I am sadly not familiar with). In that way reading this novel was a little like reading The Windsingers for me (I am also a big fan of Robin Hobb, so was intriguing to read her earlier work as Megan Lindholm.) In both cases, one big difference is that both are now famous for writing complex epics with large casts, but in both cases their earlier novels proved to be character driven dramas built around the point of view in the case of Windhaven just one character and in The Windsingers, two characters. It is also interesting that two of the present day’s most beloved fantasy writers were both rocking the boat in the early 80s by choosing to base tales around a strong female protagonist rather than the usual simpering farm boy who turns out to be the prophesized chosen one (remember this was the time of Star Wars!).
Whilst Lisa Tuttle and George RR Martin are of the same generation as Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, Ursula LeGuin would have been one of their inspirations. And it is hard not to notice that just like Earthsea, Windhaven is an archipelago. Except that Ged travels from island to island using his magical boat Lookfar, while Maris travels using her ‘wings’. Also our three stories are set at different points in Maris’ life, just like the original Wizard of Earthsea trilogy are all set at different points in Ged’s life. Storms shows her as a teenager full of fire and impertinence, One Wing at the peaks of her abilities in her late 20s, and The Fall as effectively an old woman (echoes of The Farthest Shore). And avoiding spoilers, but Maris is given a final scene in the epilogue to match Ged’s in The Farthest Shore, or going much further back, Robin Hood in the priory with his final arrow shot, or Beowulf fighting the dragon.
I have already said that George RR Martin is one of my favourite fantasy writers, though like many I have grown ever dissatisfied with the Song of Ice and Fire sequence. These days I find I enjoy Martin’s novellas much more, and while Windhaven is not as good in my opinion as A Song for Lyra, Sandkings or the Dunk and Egg stories, it is still a reminder of what a brilliant writer he is.
While it is always hard to pick out of a joint venture which part was written by which writer, there is one character which is pure George RR Martin in this novel, that of Val One Wing, a young rebellious man with a massive chip on his shoulder. A lesser writer would have had Val put his demons to rest when Maris discovered where they stemmed from in the second novella, but instead Martin has him continue to be a thorny pain for the other characters, and despite his antagonistic nature, we as readers finding ourselves cheering him on. And again sadly I have to admit I have never read any other work by Lisa Tuttle, but this book does encourage me to seek out some of her novels now, in particular I have heard that Pillow Friend is rather good.