Rainbow Man, M.J. Engh’s third and latest (but not-very-recent) novel, is just as interesting as her prior efforts. Arslan was about a harsh dictator in a troubled world. Wheel of Winds told the story of a woman circling her planet, twice. While the two were substantially different, both offered credible, down-to-earth characters dealing with life in extraordinary situations, and with a fair admixture of philosophy.
The planet Bimran is extraordinarily pleasant, but of course has a dark secret of strict policies. It’s all interesting, but in this case, Engh doesn’t pull it off quite as well. There’s a lot of discussion of the nature of god(s), good, and nature. But here it feels awkward. It’s as if, rather than reading a speculative story, you’re sitting in on series of earnest debates. The ideas are interesting, but not particularly novel. And rather than being intriguing ornament to the personal story, it feels more as if the personal side is an excuse for speculation on metaphysics. It’s readable, but after a while stops being much fun. This is worsened by an ending that, while partly satisfying, leaves a fairly substantial number of loose ends.
All in all, it’s still a good book, but one that feels more like a draft than a finished product. I’m sorry to say it, because Engh’s other books are terrific, and I’d love to see more of her work. Here’s hoping that she gives up on Roman history (her other pursuit), and comes back to speculative fiction soon.