Tor, 1999, 296 pages, C$34.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-86882-0
Allow me to preface this review with an important disclaimer: I am not a disinterested reader when it comes to The Dragon’s Eye. I’ve known both author Joël Champetier and translator Jean-Louis Trudel since 1995’s “Can-Con’95” SF convention and if it would be presumptuous of me to claim them as friends, I can at least honestly call them good acquaintances.
Similarly, I’ve been reading French-Canadian Science-Fiction for a long time, and my favorite novel remains La Taupe et le Dragon (The Dragon’s Eye), one of the few adult action/adventure idea-heavy hard-SF novel to come out of the French-Canadian scene. I’ve followed closely the process leading to the English translation of the novel and now I’m pleased to see that the American public can now read one of the best-kept secrets of French-Canadian Science-Fiction.
The Dragon’s Eye takes place nearly two hundred and fifty years in the future. Earth has expanded into space, and the colonization of extra-solar planets has begun. Not all nations have equal means, however, and China finds itself relegated to a barely-hospitable planet in a nearby double-star system. One of the stars is the Dragon’s Eye, a small but dangerous star whose intense radiations cause widespread blindness among the colonizing population. As is conditions weren’t harsh enough, New China is saddled by enormous debts. Rebellion rumors flow freely…
In the midst of all this arrives Réjean Tanner, an operative for an Earth intelligence agency. He quickly finds himself in enemy territory, tasked with retrieving a rogue agent… regardless if the agent is cooperative or not.
The stage is set for an adventure solidly placed in the James Bond tradition. But Champetier has other ambitions, and the action/adventure tale that is The Dragon’s Eye never goes quite as well as planned, never quite as easily as we might like it to be. For veterans of the spy genre, this novel is a blast given the number of conventions it cheerfully overturns. In a way, this is almost the anti-James Bond novel, yet not a satiric one…
An aspect that shines in The Dragon’s Eye is the meticulous world-building done by Champetier. The Eye’s harmful radiations force everyone to take radical steps to protect themselves against blindness and skin cancer; this obsession permeates the book’s society as deeply as one could expect from the best SF extrapolations.
Best of all, The Dragon’s Eye is a wonderful read. Champetier is one of the few French-Canadian authors to deliberately choose an uncluttered style, and the result is a novel that’s easy to get into, very well-plotted for maximum interest, and never too lengthy. I read it in a flash, pulled by the lean narrative.
I had initial fears that all the qualities that I remembered from La Taupe et le Dragon were due to unfair comparison with other French-Canadian works. It’s a relief to be finally able to judge the book in a fair context. Fortunately, the book holds up amazingly well: As an action/adventure SF with a unusually good sense of world-building, one could be hard-pressed to find better. Kudos to Champetier and kudos to Trudel for a pretty good translation. With a bit of luck, Tor will now publish Champetier’s other horror novels… and with even more luck, more SF from him. Though we French-Canadian will get to read it first!