C. S. Friedman’s 1990 The Madness Season is a standalone science-fantasy novel.
Centuries ago the Tyr had crushed the Earth. The Tyr are many bodies but one immortal mind. Consequently, they do not truly comprehend humans. They demand obedience from their peons. Immediate execution is the usual punishment for any deviation.
Daetrin Haal is eager to keep a low profile. He has a secret, which is that he’s immortal. As such, he’s a threat to the Tyr. He remembers the pre-invasion human past, which the invaders have carefully erased.
His mind and his memories make him a threat to the Tyr order. Eventually he is noticed.
The aliens do not kill him out of hand. He might be a useful resource. Still, he cannot remain on Earth. He has spent his long years assuming a string of identities; many of his guises were teachers. He cannot be allowed to teach history and resistance. Daetrin is exiled from Earth forever.
It’s painful to be cut off from his homeworld, yes, but it’s also dangerous. Exile will kill him unless he is able to meet his peculiar dietary needs. On Earth, he was able to supply his needs with synthesized replacements. Off Earth, he will have no choice but to search out and consume his natural food: human blood.
If the Tyr learn that he’s an immortal blood-drinker1, they may demand information that Daetrin does not want to share.
It turns out that Earth is not the only world to produce immortals. Daetrin encounters one such, an energy being named Marra. Marra also resents the Tyr. She has one immense advantage over Daetrin — she can’t be killed by any force that the Tyr can command. The two immortals are natural allies, allies with abilities that the Tyr do not understand and cannot counter.
Friedman got very lucky when it came to covers for her early books. Not many authors get Michael Whelan wraparounds.
This seems to be extreme ecologies week for me the Tyr are the way they are thanks to the world on which they evolved. That world’s orbit is extremely eccentric and its climate varies from near-boiling hot to deep freeze. I find it somewhat implausible that such a planet could give rise to life … but … this setting features immortals, galactic scale telepathy, and science so super as to be indistinguishable from magic. Quibbling over an unlikely ecology seems pointless.
Another feature of this setting: Friedman has imagined several routes to similar outcomes. There are at least three different ways to be functionally immortal. There are several technologies that allow faster than light travel (several ways to beat a photon to its destination).
This book struck me as something like a mystery novel. The puzzle isn’t “who killed Colonel Smythe in the library?” — it’s “why are the Tyr as they are and how do we use the answer to make them go away?” The author has structured her novel so that the relevant information is doled out in small doses from a variety of perspectives. The pace is deliberate, rather than breakneck, but it’s nonetheless absorbing.
The author’s prose is competent and the characters are sympathetic. This book may not be a genre-transforming masterpiece, but it is a good read for a hot summer afternoon (or a cool winter evening if you’re a down-under reader).
1: There’s a common word that is generally used to describe Daetrin and his ilk, but that word occurs only once in the novel, and not in reference to Daetrin.