Light Raid, Cynthia Felice & Connie Willis

Ace, 1989, 263 pages, C$6.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-441-48312-7

The line between reality and fiction, despite a few odd incidents, is very clear. In SF and other high-action genres designed for escapist entertainment, it is essential to suspend our disbelief; to accept without discussion some of the concepts at the basis of the fictional construct. With the best stories and authors, this is easy since there’s usually some kind of coherent link with What’s Already Known by Us. Lesser fiction assumes things out of thin air and bases the whole story on impossible concepts. The sagacious reader loses respect for the story, can’t believe in it, and usually closes the book in disgust. While a boring book is just a boring book, a bad book can be infuriating.

This is all to say that Light Raid is a truly wretched novel. I would normally give average marks to this average story, but the problem is that the authors made a huge, fatal mistake: They used Quebec as the antagonist.

The plot, so we might get past it as soon a possible: North America is torn apart by war. Quebec is fighting against an alliance of states, in this case the Western States. In this, somewhere, a teenage girl (Adriadne) is desperately trying to prove that her mother isn’t a spy for Quebec. Hijinks, laser raids by Quebec satellites and pathetic adolescent romance ensues.

The problems with this already-stupid plot are numerous: The first being, of course, that it’s impossible. There are seven million people in Quebec, half of them in Montreal and most of them in jobs that aren’t exactly in highly-scientific or technological sectors. And we’re supposed to believe that these evil Quebeckers can terrorize three hundred million people with laser satellites? To take a comparable simile, can you imagine North America at war with Evil Ontarians? Uh-huh.

Militarily speaking, the protracted war described in Light Raid is absurd. War buffs will tell you that high-tech conflict can’t last long; it’s even worse to consider that Quebec, a province in a country without an inkling of a decent space program, could maintain an orbital fleet of laser satellites without… ahem… American intervention.

But that’s small potatoes to Felice and Willis, who had to have an antagonist, and who better to use that the Quebeckers since they don’t speak English, (*gasp,* the infamy!) and probably won’t even read the novel anyway. Would the novel would have worked better starring, say, a California-Texas Union? Absolutely. Would it have pissed off Texans and Californians? You bet. Would that have affected the book’s sales figures? Rhetorical question, my dear Watson.

The idiocy doesn’t stop there, though: Speaking of Watson, one of the characters is an agent for Scotland Yard. Never mind if Scotland Yard has jurisdiction in western North America, or why there’s a Saskatchewan Prince: His main purpose is to get Adriadne out of trouble and make sure she have sex with the right guy (i.e.: himself. Never mind she’s 17 and he’s 22. Must be typical adolescent romance stuff.)

Even more shocking, the Peter Harris cover illustration actually represents a scene from the book. (“Where will it stop?” he cried.)

This book is insulting, and what’s worse, not even remotely engaging. Call it a unfavorable prejudice, but I just couldn’t get into it considering the blatant disregard for reality that the authors display in their world-building. I always say that If you can’t muster the intelligence, rigor and will to play by the physical rules of the universe, you shouldn’t even try. In this case, I hope never to see anything this horrible again: Connie Willis has demonstrated she’s able to do better (Bellwether), but it’s going to be difficult for her to do much worse.

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