Nicobar Lane is a hunter. People hire him to acquire (dead or alive) exotic species from all over the galaxy. They pay him a lot of money to do this and he’s very successful. But there’s one creature who he refuses to hunt: a creature known by different cultures throughout the galaxy as the Soul Eater, or the Dreamwish Beast, or Starduster. People say this creature lives in space, is not affected by black holes, and perhaps even eats them! Nicobar thinks the beast is a legend and that it’s not worth his time to go looking for it.
But then he meets an old man who claims to have encountered the legendary beast many years ago. The man offers Nicobar a deal: if the old man can help Nicobar finish his current hunt in a fraction of the time it usually takes, then they’ll spend the time they save looking for the Soul Eater. That’s how Nicobar discovers that the legends are true — there is such a creature and he does seem to have a weird relationship with energy and matter. Being near the creature causes humans to have strange experiences. Nicobar gradually becomes obsessed with the Soul Eater and the feeling may be mutual.
The premise of The Soul Eater (1981), which has some similarities to Moby Dick, is unique and it’s interesting to watch Nicobar’s personality and behavior change as his obsession grows. It’s interesting, also, to look for parallels in history — real people whose morals have degenerated as they relentlessly pursue a single goal. Mike Resnick does a nice job with this portrayal.
It’s hard, though, to care about the destiny of a man who coldly kills exotic animals (even to extinction) for a living. I have to say I didn’t really like Nicobar or enjoy his hunting excursions. Worse is his friend Chaka, a bartender and brothel owner, one of the most odious people I’ve ever met in a science fiction novel. Every scene he’s in is cringe-worthy because the dialog between the two men is so uncivilized.
The spaceship maneuvering and chase scenes, I’m pretty sure, defy the laws of physics. And, if Nicobar could visualize the creature from his spaceship, why did he never take a photo of it? He keeps insisting that the Soul Eater exists and describing it to people, but wouldn’t a photo have been helpful?
Most of the female characters in The Soul Eater are whores, but there is one female professor who is wonderful, though it really annoyed me that Nicobar thinks her smile is “the protective coloring of a woman who was far more intellectually formidable than she wanted anyone to know.” Newsflash: female professors don’t mind if men know they have a brain.
The audiobook version of The Soul Eater was narrated by Danny Campbell. It’s 5.5 hours long. I didn’t like all of Campbell’s character voices, but his normal voice is quite nice and his pacing is good. Mostly this audiobook was a good experience.