The Ring of Ritornel

I’ve exhausted my Robert Silverberg material for now, so I’m moving on to another favorite author: Charles L. Harness.

Raw Feed (1991): The Ring of Ritornel, Charles L. Harness, 1968.Ring of Ritornel

This is the quintessential Harness novel though I liked The Paradox Men better for a stronger element of revenge. All his characteristic themes are here: the lovers (Jamie Andrek and Amatar) fighting against a despot (here Amatar’s father, Oberon, determined to kill Andrek to destroy a potential threat to his life — Oberon killed Andrek’s father and imprisoned Andrek’s brother Omere’s consciousness in a computer), the mysterious workings of fate (a theme not only echoed here in the preachings of the Ritornel and Alea religions but the crystomorphs of the Aleans which attempt to project the future of a man’s life and how it will be influenced by other events and other people), cycles of time (here the Ritornel belief in an eternal, predestined cycle), the law (Andrek is a lawyer and we are treated to a scene where he saves Earth from destruction), and even spiders (Harness gives us a clever sf idea here — along with the usual van Vogtian fairy-tale vistas of time and spaces — a metal poor planet formed from the debri of a first generation star populated by sentient aliens, expert surgeons descended from spiders). There is also art here in the form of Omere (based on Harness’ brother who died at an early age). There is also an Adam and Eve plot here. Like Harness’ “The New Reality”, it involves a couple repopulating a cleansed Earth in another universe.

The novel is clever on many counts: the corrupted names of Earth (Terror) (However, it was rather obvious that Terror was Earth as it was that Kendrys and Amatar were clones of Oberon) and Rimor (for Rhymer, the computer/brain synthesis of poet Omere); the novel is filled with manifestations of the struggle between the two philosophies of Alea (total randomness) and Ritornel (total predestination bolstered by some interesting philosophical arguments. There is the bet between monk Vang of the Aleans and Andrek as to whether twelve die rolls would produce the Ring of Ritornel, the spiders web which produces a dodecahedron — symbol of Alea’s die. Imagery of randomness is repeated with the many die casts throughout the plot, the very chapter structure which goes from 1-12 and then goes from 12-1 where each of the last 11 chapters is a slightly modified restatement of the title of the first 11 chapters — thereby invoking the twelve faces of Aleas die and the cyclical ring of Ritornel. There is a clever, but nonscientific description of antimatter. Love is another theme in the union of Andrek’s and Omere’s mind (and the symmetry of both experiencing disembodied states).

Everything is very well woven together in this novel, but the central theme is the questions as to what guides fate: the randomness of Alea or pre-destination of Ritornel. Both play their part. A marvellously integrated, exciting book, a true masterpiece.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

One thought on “The Ring of Ritornel

  1. Pingback: Rings | MarzAat

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