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RenSime

rensime

Cover image cribbed from isfdb.org

RenSime by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Doubleday, 1984
Price I paid: none

Laneff Farris is an anomaly—an ordinary RenSime in a family of highly skilled channel Simes and Companion Gens dedicated to uniting the two branches of mutated humanity. Unexpectedly changing over into a Sime, she kills the two who try, unprepared, to help her.

When she finally disjuncts, frees herself of the desire to get energy-of-life from Gens, she vows no other child will have to kill to survive changeover as she has.

Now, through her biochemical research, Laneff believes she has the key, though no one can duplicate her synthesis. The head of the powerful House of Zeor supports her, but she has fallen in love with his mysterious ex-gypsy companion, Shanlun.

If her research succeeds, humanity will be reunited at last. But is the world ready? Many fearful extremists say “No!” And to prove it, they entice Laneff to kill again—publicly.

Rescued by an underground leader, given a lab and a few months to live, Laneff struggles to complete her research as she becomes deeply attracted to her benefactor. Then Shanlun reappears, claiming she can survive a second disjunction and marry him. But when he discovers she’s pregnant, he tells her his method will abort her child.

Can Laneff survive to bear her child, finally come to terms with herself as a RenSime, and still help the cause of Unity?

I’m pretty sure this is the next book in Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s Sime/Gen series of novels. I say that because there were some books written in between this one and its predecessor, Mahogany Trinrose, that I’m about ninety percent sure are prequels, but there are also some books set in this time frame (The Unity Era) that were written later and lordy lord everything is so bonkers with this series. I looked up at least three different chronologies for this series and every one of them was different. I wanted to read them in publication order, but I’m starting to think that such a decision isn’t the right one? I just don’t know.

I’m steadily growing to like this series, and I don’t know what to make of that. Help.

One thing about the Sime/Gen series is that something like a hundred years elapses between books. House of Zeor was set in a crapsack almost-medieval postapocalyptic world, but by the time we’ve gotten down to RenSime, things are looking on the up-and-up. Technology is coming back, and in this book we get things like cars and telephones and helicopters. I think this helps things. Having a setting that’s grounded in something familiar helps in a couple of ways. For one, the reader has something to latch onto when things get a bit weird. This can be comforting and help the reader decide to press on through the narrative. It also has the advantage of making the weird stuff weirder by comparison.

This book kicks off at the funeral of Digen Ryan Farris, the main character of Unto Zeor, Forever and Mahogany Trinrose. Digen Farris is one of the most powerful people on the planet, head of the House of Zeor and World Controller. He’s also a beacon of light for people all over the world, working tirelessly in the cause of Unity—bringing Simes and Gens into peaceful coexistence for the Greater Good.

Our hero for this book is Laneff Farris. In a series where all of our main characters are super-special-mega-snowflakes, Laneff stands apart. See, in these books you’ve got Simes, who are tentacle vampires with super powers, but then you’ve got Channels, who are able to transcend their predatory instincts and help other Simes get the selyn energy they need without killing people. You’ve also got the Farrises, a sub-mutation on the Channels with some kind of specialness I’m not sure about. There are also Tigue channels, who likewise are special. As of Mahogany Trinrose there are also Endowed Channels, who can cast blood magic or something similar to it. Couple that with the various levels of Channel power and you get a snowdrift of special snowflakes just waiting to come crashing down and make a story I end up reading.

Laneff, though, is less of a special snowflake. She’s just a regular old RenSime, which is a nice way of saying she’s not a Channel. Her superpowers are relegated to the regular Sime powers, which means she’s faster and stronger than a Gen, but that’s where it ends. In Sime society, she’s baseline.

But! She’s still really special because despite her lack of abilities, she’s really smart and she might just save the world. There’s gotta be a name for this kind of Mary Sue, the kind that is special by virtue of not being special, but still being smart and pretty and spunky.

I rag on this, but honestly Laneff was a good character. She’s got some real problems. She killed somebody at her Changeover, when she became a Sime. This is a thing that tends to happen a lot. A fresh Sime without anybody to hold him or her back is liable to kill any Gen that’s nearby out of hunger. Laneff, who fell prey to felling prey, made a solemn oath to a) never do it again, and b) stop it from ever happening again to anybody.

This all comes crashing down at Digen Farris’s funeral. Some Gens show up, ostensibly a news crew, but they turn out to be terrorists. They don’t blow up the funeral or something like I was expecting; they actually had a much more insidious plan. One of the crew ends up smashing his hand in a piece of equipment, sending waves of pain and fear across the funeral party. Because Simes sense this and really get off on it, Laneff ends up jumping from her seat and killing the man, thus rejuncting herself on camera.

Junct Simes are ones that need to kill. In fact, the book spells kill with a capital K when it talks about what Simes need to do. It’s a bad thing. An adult Sime who goes Junct is basically a person waiting to die unless they can keep on Killing. It has something to do with the idea that regular feeding isn’t satisfying anymore, and eventually the Kill lust (called killust in SimeLan) is so overwhelming that they die. Because Laneff just gave in to her base needs, she’s all but committed suicide. On the other hand, she couldn’t help it. It’s established that no amount of willpower will keep a RenSime from Killing if things go in that direction. Channels can keep away from it, but regular old Simes could no more not Kill than they could not breathe. So this is a problem.

Note: the Sime/Gen wikia is looking really shabby right now, but it was a big help while reading this book and I wish I’d discovered it while reading the earlier ones.

(Postscriptum note, 11/10/16: A lot of the things that made me think the wikia was shabby have since been fixed. Thanks to the Facebook Sime~Gen group for pointing that out to me!)

While all this is going on, it’s election season! Since Digen Farris is dead, his descendent Mairis Farris (ugh what a name) is running for the position of World Controller. Because Mairis supports Laneff in her research, Laneff’s little problem might cost him votes.

I spent a lot of the book thinking that Mairis would be a villain, but it never happens. He’s the opposite of that kind of career politician who would give up on something inconvenient just to recoup a few votes. He does a good job. I also kept imagining him as a woman, because Mairis should be a woman’s name. You can thank Frasier for that, I guess.

Laneff flees with a Gen named Yuan, of the House of Rior. You might remember Rior from the second book. They’re one of the houses that formed the Distect, a group setting themselves apart from the Tecton headed by the House of Zeor. At this point in the story, the Distect was thought all but dissolved, but apparently it wasn’t, so there you go. Yuan offers Laneff time and materials to continue her research in secret. She hesitates for a while, but accepts. She also starts to fall in love with Yuan, although she was previously in love with a Gen named Shanlun, who does show up again here in a little bit.

The terrorists, called the Diet, are targeting Laneff because of her research. She’s looking for a way to distinguishing Sime from Gen in utero, so that as soon as a baby is born it can be placed where it’ll need to go. There’s a chance that Gen couples will have Sime babies and vice versa, so some kind of apartheid solution wouldn’t work, although that’s what the Diet wants. The Diet is also afraid that this research will end up producing Gen farms and stuff. Basically this is all a story about racism and prejudice and ignorance that fits really well with the fact that if you haven’t voted yet you better go do it Tuesday, Americans.

</politics>

Most of the story revolves around Laneff being afraid that she’s going to kill again while simultaneously trying to make up her mind between Yuan and Shanlun. I didn’t mind that as much as I might otherwise have. It was pretty well written and Laneff is honestly a relatable character, despite being a tentacle vampire. She finally decides on Shanlun and gets on with her work. Tragedy strikes a few more times, though.

The Diet attacks the hideout and everybody has to flee.

Meanwhile, Laneff is making friends with a Gen lady named Jarmi. It’s not often that I meet a character in a book and then immediately have an image of them in my mind, but in the case of Jarmi, it turned out to be Melissa McCarthy. This might be because I recently saw the Ghostbusters remake, which I enjoyed. Whatever. The thing about Jarmi is that she’s sweet and friendly but she’s also got a bit of a wild side. She thinks she can satisfy Laneff’s killust by being a little bit on the M side of S&M. For a while it works, but because Jarmi isn’t trained as a donor, an accident happens and Laneff kills her. It is very sad.

Distraught again, Laneff almost gives up on her work, but some things happen and she’s convinced to keep trying. It also turns out she’s preggers, so she’s determined to live at least long enough to have the baby. During the course of her research somebody points out the properties of the mahogany trinrose (from the last book), and it turns out to be just what she needs, although it also turns out that she never, as far as I know, finds the thing she was looking for at the beginning of the book and instead learns a way to disjunct herself again after her kills. A problem is that the mahogany trinrose also works as an abortifacient, so if she goes that route she’ll lose the baby. Never fear, though, because through hard work and genius and, perhaps more oddly, the ability to visualize really well, she isolates a key ingredient of the flower and develops a way to disjunct herself without losing the baby and everybody is happy and Mairis is elected World Controller after all.

You know, this series just keeps getting better and better and that’s so crazy to me. As much as I disliked House of Zeor, I would never have guessed that I would have continued reading this series and, moreover, actually started to enjoy it. I’m not likely going to start contributing to the fandom or its mountains of fan fiction, but I’ve started to see just what makes these books so attractive to the people who really really like it. The first two books notwithstanding, there’s some good storytelling and some good world-building going on here, and those two things are so often isolated from one another. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, at least with this book, hit a damn good middle way and made a story that kept me reading. I just can’t believe it.

I was really harsh to House of Zeor and its author when I reviewed it, and while I’m not ever going to say it was a particularly good book (in fact, I’ll keep on saying that it was outright bad), I have to say that I owe the author an apology. Maybe I owe the fandom an apology, too. Let’s put a pin in that, shall we?


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