1979’s Maeve is the fourth book in Jo Clayton’s Diadem series; it’s the second book in which lead character Aleytys gets to wear clothes on the cover.
Determined to find her mother’s lost home world (which is somewhere towards the galactic core) and her own kidnapped baby, Aleytys funds her way from star system to star system by working her passage. Her latest ride has reached its core-ward extreme. Aleytys disembarks on Maeve to hunt for a ship heading in the right direction.
There are one or two minor complications.
Maeve is under the thumb of the Wei-Chu-Hsien Company, whose interest in Maeve is limited to the resources it can extract from the planet. The various native cultures do not care for their foreign dominators. Aleytys had been crew on a ship selling weapons to the natives. Per the Wei-Chu-Hsien Company, the ship’s visit was illegal. Hence Aleytys is an illegal visitor.
She finds herself on the other side of the world from the official star port. (Smugglers do not touch down near official star ports when alternatives exist.) If she’s to get off-planet, she needs to make her way to the port. She needs a guide. One native, the reluctant Gwynnor, is convinced to serve as guide with a little bribery and psychic meddling.
She needs to traverse a predator-filled wilderness, find a way to earn money, and pay or convince a passing star captain to grant her passage. What could go wrong?
When Aleytys discovers how badly the natives are being treated by the Company, she is moved to help them with all her cunning and stupendous psychic powers. She cannot win, but she does succeed in attracting the full attention of the Company.
Little does she (or anyone else, for that matter) know that the Company is now led by one Chu Manhanu, who is hosting a malevolent alien predator.
The Company jumps to the conclusion that Aleytys must be an agent of one of their rivals, the McNeis. She has red hair; the McNeis clan also have red hair; ergo, she is a McNeis. The Company is told, again and again, they are wrong. But once they’ve latched onto this notion, they find it hard to let it go. That there could be more than one set of red heads in the galaxy is just too much to accept.
Well, I found it funny.
By the standards of the 1970s, the people who run and work for the Wei-Chu-Hsien Company are not quite the horrific Orientalist stereotypes they might have been. Not quite. Except for that one guy who is secretly an alien monster, they’re sexist but pragmatic businessmen who do not hesitate to make concessions to the locals when no other alternative presents itself. They are content to stay in their concession, the city built around the star port. Perhaps because they don’t like being stalked by indigenous carnivores?
The Diadem books generally read as though Clayton had read every novel Andre Norton ever wrote and set out to play with the same tropes, but to feature characters who have libidos and bodily functions. In this setting, technology for birth control exists, its absence is inconvenient, and there are such things as periods. There is sex: Aleytys is somewhat offended that her alien guide doesn’t want to sample her off-world hotness just because she’s not the right species.
Not that she wants a permanent bond. She’s all too aware that everyone for whom she has felt genuine affection has suffered some terrible fate (blinded, disintegrated, kidnapped by a psychopath, mind-raped). Self-protection would dictate a friends-with-benefits policy.
One might expect that the diadem-enabled Aleytys would crush the opposition. Not so. The best she can do is arrange a return to the status quo before the CEO was monster-infested. Nor does she manage to find her child. Someone else has rescued the child and makes a good case to Aleytys that the baby would be better off with the rescuer.
Perhaps Clayton had tired of the missing baby plot. Or perhaps it’s character growth for Aleytys to accept that a starwitch possessed by alien tech and being chased by implacable intelligent arachnoids1 isn’t the best possible mother.
Aleytys still must find her mom’s planet and convince the alien spiders who want the diadem back to leave her alone. Enough loose threads to justify yet another volume in the series.
I like the series, on the whole, but this entry rather depressed me. No happy endings.
1: The spider-like RMoahl are fairly amiable entities as cosmic spiders go. They don’t want to kill Aleytys. They just want the diadem embedded in her back. Since removing would kill her, they’d happily include her with the diadem in their museum exhibit for as long as it takes age to kill her.