J. R. R. Tolkien and Richard Adams leap to mind, as one enters the exceptionally well-drawn and memorable fantasy world in Richard Ford's Quest for the Faradawnm . Happily, however, this is not an imitative work, but a sensitive and original novel that will be welcomed by readers who savor intelligent fantasy, plus a message and an engaging story.
Like Tolkien, Ford portrays a dramatic quest in convincingly realized settings: a hedgerow at the edge of a farmer's field and more fantastic locations, such as a seashore island enshrouded in magical mists.
While Tolkien's heroes confront entirely fantastic (if symbolic) forces, Ford's do battle with human greed and blindness to the welfare of animals as well as with sorcery.
Like author Richard Adams in ''Watership Down,'' Ford incorporates anthropomorphic animal characters into his tale of a human infant who is adopted by an appealing badger and his mate. The child eventually becomes the savior of an animal world threatened by land development, hunters, and ultimately man's potential to destroy the planet itself.
This is a rich, engrossing story that traces the maturing of an innocent babe in the woods, his chaste love for a sensitive girl, and his determination to play out his heroic destiny. The boy's warmth of feeling for the engagingly different animals who rear him has powerful appeal; it contrasts strikingly with the cruelty and carelessness of the book's other human characters. The British author, an adviser to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals , writes with spirited conviction that lends a special grace to this highly recommended book.
Anne McCaffrey, best known for her ''Dragonrider'' series of novels, has produced superior science fiction in Crystal Singerm . The heroine, Killashandra Ree, is a young woman of the future who has worked devotedly to become an opera star only to find that, in the face of intense competition, her considerable talents are not enough to win her the roles she wants.
Killashandra turns bitter disappointment into defiant determination, and does succeed in taking on one of the most difficult and awe-inspiring musical careers in the galaxy. Perfect pitch and considerable courage are required of the heroine as she uses musical force to help slice crystals from their harsh and beautiful environment on the storm-swept planet Ballybran.
By detailing Killashandra's intense training as well as her remarkable readjustment to planetary conditions, the author gives us a strong buildup to the extraordinary experience the heroine undergoes while cutting the crystals for use in a communications network. Killashandra becomes a true crystal singer as one note, sung at perfect pitch, is wailed magnificently back at her by walls of black crystal.
This novel does contain a subplot concerning the sexual partnerships of the heroine, but these aren't graphically described.
James P. Hogan's Voyage from Yesteryearm is flawed by some of the failings critics often find in science fiction. The author begins with a good idea, but a clever gimmick isn't enough to keep the reader's attention. Workaday dialogue stifles characterization, and overlong scenes slow down plot development.
The story concerns a well-envisioned spaceship filled with colonists from war-torn Earth. They want to settle on the planet Chiron, which was previously colonized by children. These early refugees from Earth hope to protect the Chironeans from the inevitable stream of escapees still to come.
Safely settled on the planet, however, the new arrivals find that it is no easy task to orient the now grown-up children there to a sense of hierarchy, government, and defense efforts. The Chironeans, they discover, have their own highly effective and sensible ways of ordering things. They've learned to respect talent rather than discipline in determining who will fill each function in society.
There is no doubt that ''Voyage from Yesteryear'' presents interesting ideas. Sadly, the author's literary craftsmanship isn't up to its standards.
Ursula K. Le Guin's new anthology illustrates the many directions her fiction has explored in recent years. Titled The Compass Rosem to suggest all directions - including ''Above and Below'' emanating from ''The center/self/here and now,'' as Le Guin puts it - the anthology is more varied in style, theme, and mood than any compilation of works by a single author is likely to be.
The volume may serve to introduce new readers to Le Guin's work, but those already familiar with her will feel most comfortable with it.
Included are everything from a hilarious spoof on academic writing shown in ''extracts'' from a pretentious linguistics journal of the future, to the haunting tale of a young woman following her cantankerous aunt into a strange afterlife, to tales from Le Guin's imaginary country Orsinia, a place evocative of Central Europe in the 19th century.
Dragon Talesm is an absolutely delightful read for anyone who enjoys a humorous foray into unpredictable territory. Editors Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles Waugh prove by their selections that dragons come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.