Side-quest!

Silence in Solitude — Melissa Scott
The Roads of Heaven, book 2

SilenceInSolitude

1986’s Silence in Solitude is the second volume in the Roads of Heaven trilogy (and Scott’s fourth novel overall, if the ISFDB is to be trusted [1]).

The story begins six months after Silence arrives on Solitudo Hermae to begin her training as a magus. She is working under the supervision of Magus Isambard, an old ally.

As a female pilot in a fanatically patriarchal society, Silence was already unusual; her new career as a female magus makes her virtually sui generis [2].

This is not such a good thing, as the Hegemon has put a price on Silence’s head. Hard to be an inconspicuous fugitive when you are notably unique.


As the Hegemon’s agents begin to narrow their focus to Solitudo Hermae, Silence, Isambard, and Silence’s two husbands (Denis Balthazar and Julian Chase Mago) decide that it would be prudent to be somewhere that’s not Solitudo Hermae. Isambard is quite keen on heading on to Earth, which is completely beyond the reach of the Hegemon. However, Earth is also closed to our quartet of adventurers, as the Rose Worlds have blockaded all the routes leading from the Hegemony through the Rose Worlds to Earth [3].

The Rose Worlders have indeed blocked access by conventional means, but Silence has discovered an alternate method. She can use an old-fashioned portolan (a hermetic version of the portolans once used on Earth) to circumvent the Rose World defenses, However, portolans have been out of fashion for millennia; finding one (or enough information to make one) could be impossible.

Conveniently enough (for the adventurers and the plot), they discover that Adeban Kebbe, Satrap of Inarime, has a collection of antiquities that might very well contain the necessary portolan. Adeban is an old acquaintance of Isambard; he also bears a grudge against the current Hegemon. In other words, Adeban is not just a possible ally, but perhaps an enthusiastic one.

There’s a catch (there’s always a catch). Adeban is plotting an uprising against the Hegemon. He is more interested in enlisting Silence and Isambard to help him than he is in helping them. However, he is willing to bargain. If they can help him retrieve his daughter Aili (being held hostage by the Hegemon), they can have the portolan.

All Silence has to do to rescue Aili is: journey to Asterion, capital planet of the Hegemony; infiltrate the Hegemon’s Women’s Palace under an assumed name; work out how to subvert the defenses of what is likely one of the most secure enemy facilities; and escape with Aili—all without the Hegemon’s intelligent, suspicious sister noticing what Silence is doing. Easy peasy!

~oOo~

Scott was still honing her writing skills when she was working on this novel, so I have to warn you that it opens with a massive, pace-killing infodump recapitulating the first volume, Five-Twelfths of Heaven. Persevere; once you get past that section, the novel is well worth reading.

Even by the standards of the U.S. under the deified Reagan, the Hegemony is pretty damn misogynistic; virtually every detail of women’s lives is dictated to them. From fashion to manners, everything is calculated to drive home the lesson that women are less than men.

The Hegemon’s sister is a prime example; the whole reason she is confined to the Women’s Palace is that her sensible advice to her brother made him all too aware which of them was the smarter one. Rather than take advantage of her intelligence, he exiled her so that she would not be a reminder of his intellectual inferiority.

Silence’s adventures in the Palace, where she must pass herself off as someone from a different class and a different culture, are reasonably well handled [4]. The success of her venture depends on finding gaps in the palace security network, which she does. A long-ago functionary made some bad decisions, decisions that allow Silence to subvert the network. This doesn’t seem all that unlikely, given that we have seen too many real-world security breaches of late.

I would have liked to have seen more interaction between Silence and her husbands, but I understand that a plot where she begins as a hermetic student/wanted criminal and ends up as a spy would preclude spending much time with her known associates.

Back in the day, I liked my science fiction—with its grittily realistic FTL, ray guns, and psionics—on one side of my plate and my fantasy—with its airy-fairy, whimsical economics, logistics, and strategy—on the other. Even then, back in the 1980s when I first read this book, I thought Scott’s science fantasy worked pretty well. Some decades on, I no longer prefer such strict—note to self, find less loaded word than segregation before posting this—since when you really get down to it, telling science fiction from fantasy is like trying to distinguish swedes from rutabagas.I still think Scott’s mélange of science fiction and fantasy works pretty well.

Silence in Solitude is available from Crossroads Press. Remember to designate an ebook format before paying, otherwise you’ll have to send them a sad email admitting you forgot again, and could they please email a copy of the book you paid for. Hypothetically speaking.

1: The ISFDB entry for Scott needs attention; it’s definitely missing some recent editions and novels.

2: Presumably there are other talented women who could have become pilots and magi, but were not allowed to do so.

3: Given the Hegemony’s habit of conquering anything they can reach, a blockade seems reasonable. Still, it feels as if there might be something more behind the Rose Worlder determination to keep Earth sequestered. I will find out in the third book. Onwards and upwards! Excelsior!

4: My editor demurs, saying that she thought this whole section fast-paced and absorbing.


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