I don’t really know whether ‘A Song for Lya’ is considered sci-fi or fantasy (knowing Martin, likely fantasy) but the border between the two is so fragile that I’ve listed it as both — which brings me immediately to one of the things I liked about this story. It was well written (though nowhere near as well as other works of Martin, namely the A Song of Ice and Fire) and contained an intertwined idea that took what most people hold important and turned it around; twisted it.
What is love ?
Martin has a partial answer of sorts for us in ‘A Song for Lya’ and for that, if for nothing more, this is a story worth reading. The concepts presented to us have had predecessors in the past, but at least the look is new and the handling of topics as well — not many of the better end of the spectra of sci-fi writers have written stories of love after all (Isaac Asimov might be the only though no doubt Clarke has lightly touched upon it as well). Aside from that though, as I already mentioned, the feeling that I was given by parts of the book was that it was not finished — or perhaps it is wrong to assume that all of Martin’s works would equal the well-known saga ?
But how much can human beings know each other? Aren’t all of them cut off, really? Each alone in a big, dark, empty universe? We only trick ourselves when we think that someone else is there. In the end, in the cold lonely end, it’s only us, by ourselves, in the blackness. Are you there, Robb? How do I know? Will you die with me, Robb? Will we be together then? Are we together now?
I guess that it is something many people think about — if not aloud for fear of being overheard (for who indeed would like their deepest fears to be known) then in their own minds. And if not “thought” then perhaps a thought, only a single one, has strayed there.
For indeed, if you accept that love is there, then the quantification given will also mean that it will end. The main characters are two people with ‘Talents’ — meaning that they can read either the emotions or thoughts of other people if they concentrate. An interesting power?
That said, aside from the two Talented, we’ve also got a rather interesting chap named Dino (completely unrelated to everyone’s favourite Dinosaur Soldier) who is the commander of the planet where the problems that the Talented — named Lya and Robb — are called to investigate take place. I have to say that Dino became my favourite character by the end of the book, mostly because I felt that at least on some level I could relate to him far more easily than to any of the others.
Unfortunately, there is little else to be said for while the ending can be guessed from the early beginnings then it is not declared out loud as in other books such as the ‘Master of Go’ — therefore I will avoid giving out details and instead finish on two thoughts : one of resemblance, the other a quote.
It reminds me of ‘Solaris’. While Stanislaw Lem’s book was a bit more thorough then the general gist remains the same (on a very broad level) : love. I do think that I’d rather reread ‘Solaris’ (though I hear that the English translation is not the best) than ‘A Song for Lya’ but it did have its charms. I am also inclined to think that with the passing of time, my opinion of the book will improve.
“Robb, that’s absurd, and you know it. You think the Shkeen have found the answer to the mysteries of creation. But look at them. The oldest civilized race in known space, but they’ve been stuck in the Bronze Age for fourteen thousand years. We came to them. Where are their spaceships? Where are their towers?”
“Where are our bells?” I said. “And our joy? They’re happy, Dino. Are we? Maybe they’ve found what we’re still looking for. Why the hell is man so driven, anyway? Why is he out to conquer the galaxy, the universe, whatever? Looking for God, maybe …? Maybe. He can’t find him anywhere, though, so on he goes, on and on, always looking. But always back to the same darkling plain in the end.”