fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Madness Season by C.S. FriedmanThe Madness Season by C.S. Friedman

I am quickly becoming a fan of C.S. Friedman. Audible Frontiers has recently produced all her novels in audio format, so I snatched them up and I’m happy I did. Her science fiction is original, imaginative, and super smart.

In The Madness Season, a man named Daetrin is old enough to have fought in the last battle when the Earth was conquered by the aliens of Tyr. That was three hundred years ago and the Tyrians want to know how Daetrin is still alive. So they’ve captured him, just like they’ve rounded up all the humans who they think they can learn something from. The Tyr have been genetically engineering the humans who are left on Earth — breeding out creativity, intelligence, and rebelliousness in the hopes of making them more biddable — but some humans have found ways to resist their captors’ plans. Daetrin is worried about what they intend to do with him. If he cooperates with them, will he doom the future of his own people? Should he try to find some allies and fight back? Or is it possible that there are values more important than survival?

The Madness Season showcases many of C.S. Friedman’s admirable skills: inventive and perfectly leak-proof plot, excellent character development (this book contains some of my favorite Friedman characters so far), elegant writing style, a nice balance of tension and release, a touch of understated humor, and a foundation of science (math, physics, biology, comparative anatomy, neuroscience, evolution, sociology) that informs without being at all teachy.

Perhaps what I appreciate most about C.S. Friedman is that she creates wonderfully inventive worlds, species, languages, and cultures that truly feel alien rather than just variations on humanity. Friedman’s aliens are so alien that they’re frightening. They have different language processing equipment, different sensory systems, and completely different ways of thinking. All of their physiological and psychological details are different from ours, but Friedman uses her scientific knowledge to construct them so that they make sense. Friedman also has interesting insights and ideas about human behavior — again, backed up by research findings about memory, perception, consciousness, sleep, etc.

Jonathan Davis, as I’ve said so many times before, is one of the very best audiobook narrators. As usual, he gives a terrific reading of The Madness Season. Even though he speaks a little too slowly (I had to increase the playback speed), Davis has perfect cadence and makes it possible to forget that we’re being read to. If you see Jonathan Davis’ name on the cover, you can be sure it’s a good production. I highly recommend The Madness Season — especially in audio format!

(print 1990, audio 2012) He’d had so many names over the centuries, so many new identities that he could scarcely remember who he had originally been. Now his name was Daetrin, a name given by the alien conquerors of humankind, the Tyr. Three hundred years had passed since the Tyr conquered the people of Earth as they had previously overcome numerous races throughout the galaxy. In their victory they had taken the very heart out of the human race, isolating the true individualists, the geniuses, all the people who represented the hopes, dreams, and discoveries of the future, and imprisoning them in dome colonies on planets hostile to human life. There the Tyr, a race which shared a unified gestalt mind, had left these gifted individuals to work on projects which would, the conquerors hoped, reveal all of humankind’s secrets to them. Yet Daetrin’s secret was one no scientist had even uncovered, for down through the years he had succeeded in burying it so well that he had even hidden his real nature from himself. But, taken into custody by the Tyr, there was no longer any place for Daetrin to run, no new name and life for him to assume. Now he would at last be forced to confront the truth about himself-and if he failed, not just Daetrin but all humans would pay the price….


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.