To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed by this book the first time I read it about three months ago. However, since I’m months behind in doing new reviews, I skimmed through it again before writing this. It holds up better the second time around.
This review copy came straight from the author.
Review: The High Hunt: The Orion Guild, Book One, Adam Connell, 2013.
Bagging a Yeti in the Himalayas is just one of the things that has made Lansing a legend in the Orion Guild. He’s a true hunter with all the necessary skills: tracking, stalking, and a crack shot. He respects his kills. And he won’t hunt men. He’s the symbol of the Guild.
But not everyone likes the Guild and its fussy, stodgy ways: no post-1953 firearms are used in their hunts nor much other modern technology. And they forbid their members to hunt men.
That’s why the upstart hunting organization RifleHire has targeted the Guild, and Lansing in particular, for destruction.
Lansing takes charge of the Orion Guild’s contract to purge a herd of brindles, animals highly prized for their aphrodisiac meat and that can only be raised on Wildernesse. That happens to be the home planet of Lansing before he was forced into exile after his parents were wrongly accused of trying to undercut the government’s brindle meat monopoly.
But that’s not the only reunion taking place. One-armed Bledsoe is waiting there to hunt brindle too and disgrace Lansing after the latter forced him out of the Guild for illegally hunting men. He’s a sadist, a proud man of many impoverishing vices, and really only skilled at shooting – preferably slow death shots rather than Lansing’s quick kills. In tow is Cass, a weird dog-woman chimera there to do the hunting and stalking and mundane camp duties for Bledsoe.
Overseeing Bledsoe’s RifleHire audition is Rose, a nymphomaniac armorer who just happens to be Lansing’s cousin and who has delusions of reuniting with Lansing after he sexually spurned her.
Lansing’s crew includes Wren, an ex-football player who isn’t taken seriously as a hunter. That’s why he issues an official challenge to Lansing as to who can kill the most brindles. And there’s Nadia a twenty-something trapped in a body that’s thirteen years old. She participated in the first High Hunt as the Orion Guild’s attempted assassination of Bledsoe was dubbed. She longs for the sexual thrill of killing something intelligent: a human.
And that’s not even listing the misfits rom RifleHire, a thuggish outfit that practices gang rape initiations.
There are several aesthetics a science fiction story can use: attempted prediction and realistic extrapolation, satire, or contrived setups to provide the metaphors or adventure plots an author wants. Connell uses the latter. So we get a too familiar future with Spam meat and the IFL (presumably the Interstellar or Interplanetary Football League) Wren played for. Nadia describes her body as being like a “bobby-soxer”. There are few technological extrapolations apart from the Longliner starships that ply the spaceways and the firearms RifleHire uses.
Instead, Connell put his effort into the complex ecosystem of Wildernesse and the brindles as well as the details (there are a lot of flashbacks in this novel) of Lansing’s other hunts of alien creatures.
Sometimes the Quentin Tarrantino-ish dialogue isn’t distinctive enough for each character. Almost every character has some sort of physical problem. And quite a few also have psychological problems, some, frankly, not very believable.
I was a bit bored with it on the first reading until about the three-quarters mark when it really picked up, and Lansing reveals unexpected depths.
The story is complete though Connell says he is working on a sequel. I suspect some of the (surviving) RifleHire characters will show up in it.
Still, I would be curious about such a sequel.
Recommended if you like hunting stories, thugs, and lots of gunplay.
Additional thoughts (with spoilers)
This novel uses some of the same motifs as Connell’s Total Secession. Both feature actual and planned reunions. Here that’s Lansing unplanned return to Wildernesse and Rose’s delusions as to how that reunion will happen. Both are stories of hunt and pursuit and of warring groups.
Connell’s characters are usually deviations from the true sportsman’s ethos, as preached by Orion Guild (a group, as Wren notes, that hates signs of weakness in its hunters but also fetishizes their injuries and deaths). Bledsoe is a talented killer but no real hunter. Nadia is bored by her talented slaying of mere animals and wants to hunt men. The RifleHire batch are mostly glory seekers pretty unskilled in the areas Lansing excels at.
Even Lansing, though, ultimately becomes a sort of corrupted hunter – or, at least, he feels his hunt has been tainted when, in their final confrontation, Bledsoe reveals that the brindles are not suffering from a cyclically infectious disease. He infected them to upstage Lansing in a final hunt. Indeed, he now no longer wants to kill Lansing in revenge. He wants to disgrace him in a failed hunt.
The story becomes compelling when Nadia defects, mid-hunt, to RifleHire and kills Wren. Lansing has come to respect Wren, his challenger, as nobody else has. His kills are far less than Lansing, but he is eager to perfect his skills and won’t cheat in taking trophies like his competitors. At novel’s end, Lansing secretly credits Wren with his kills.
I got the feeling that Connell may have been attempting a Hemingwayesque story of competing hunters. Of course, I can’t be sure. Because I’ve never read any Hemingway. (Yes, I know I should be ashamed.)
I won’t say I’m a Connell fan yet, but he does do unique and garish science fiction which makes me wonder what he will attempt next and, on the level of dialogue, I think he’s improved since Total Secession.