Picks and Pans Review: Sudanna, Sudanna

updated 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/06/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Brian Herbert

The black humor and comic domestic situations of Brian Herbert's third sci-fi novel give the distinct impression that his major fictional influence is not his father, Frank (with whom he is now collaborating on a new novel), but rather Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Like Herbert the Elder, however, Brian is expert at combining the exotic and the familiar into a believable fictional landscape peopled by characters we can sympathize with, however alien they first appear. This novel takes place on a peanut-shaped planetoid named Ut. It is ruled by Mamacita, an eyeball-size computer. The subjugated denizens of the planet are mild-mannered nomads who live in boathouse-like "dwellos" and are forced to adhere to a mindless set of rules enforced by Mamacita as a kind of worldwide system of busywork. Music has been banned as well as "the S word" ("Sudanna"), which represents a wind, a homeland and a connection to the Ut people's old freedom. The central character, Hiley, is an Ut family member obsessed with self-preservation. He follows all the rules and even finds time to fill secret books with lists of potential dangers. Hiley has raised worrying to an art form; early on we find that he is concerned with losing his head, literally: "A brown headcap strapped around his leg-armpits kept his head from falling off. In theory, anyway." His family finds him ridiculously timid, and his teenage daughter, Maudrey, is rebelliously reckless. She falls in love with Prussirian, a "music criminal." The focus of this novel is clearly micro rather than macro, with none of Dune's epic grapplings between Good and Evil. Brian just flounders when he attempts his father's quasimysticism: "Prussirian beheld no faces in the vision, but met many people in ways that meant more to him than their appearances." Ultimately, what this book lacks in cosmic import, it compensates for with warmth, wit and thoughtful parallels to life on a more familiar, rounder planet. (Arbor, $15.95)

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