Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Night of Power, by Spider Robinson

(pb; 1985)

From the back cover:

“The place: a future New York City torn by racial tension and ripe for rebellion. In this frighteningly prophetic novel Spider Robinson – a multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner – postulates a near future in which black Americans at long last demand what is theirs... and have the power to take it. Their weapons are high technology and careful planning; their soldiers well trained and sworn to secrecy. And their plans are unsuspected... until the Night of Power.

“Caught in the middle of the insurrection are Russell and Dena Grant and their daughter Jennifer; a 13-year old whose genius-level I.Q. saves her life more than once after insurrection breaks out. As an interracial couple, the Grants are scorned by both blacks and whites. They face the problems every couple does – but the Night of Power becomes the ultimate test, of their loyalty to each other and to their separate races.”


Warning – possible spoilers in this review.

In the early part of the last decade of the twentieth century, the Grants – Dena and Russell, and their teenage daughter, Jennifer – abandon Canada for New York City. Dena, a popular ballet dancer, has a show to do, one that will bring them to the not-so-United States for six weeks.

It’s bad timing on their part. They arrive shortly before the Night of Power, a Muslim holiday, which has been radicalized and made more violent by Michael and his well-organized army of followers – an underground army that’s been growing for a quarter of a century.

Robinson has constructed an engaging, provocative social novel that is exciting and thoughtful, all the while focusing on the characters: primarily the Grants and Jose (Jennifer’s bodyguard), and their relationships with each other (as well as Michael and others). Robinson’s alternate-future New York is not far removed from our own, in terms of politics, history and attitude, making this an intriguing, if unsettling novel.

Readers seeking a light-hearted read might want to skip this one. The harsh, race-centric truths are made palatable by the love and hope that shines through the actions of the central characters. Even Michael, revolutionary and leader of the proposed country, Equity – formerly known as Pennsylvania and New York – is personable, intelligent and kind.

Incredible social novel, one that reminds this reader why he started reading sci-fi in the first place: to be challenged and entertained at the same time. Night of Power succeeds on this count, and then some.

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