The Dragon Never Sleeps
Reviewed by wracked
This book is Glen Cook's last science fiction novel. He is more famously known for his Black Company series that follow a mercenary company through 30 years of service in a never-ending war between sorcerers. This is a great pity, because this book along with his other SF novels, Passage at Arms and The Starfisher Trilogy (Starfishers, Shadowline, Stars' End), are excellent reads. I would even suggest that based on his earlier efforts if he would have written more SF novels he would have garnered more accolades then he has from his fantasy novels.
The Dragon Never Sleeps is set in some distant millennium where mankind has colonized a significant portion of their quarter of the galaxy. Canon Space is the name given to the human-dominated areas and the task of policing such a large area is given to the Guardships (named after Roman Legions), a self-maintaining fleet of gigantic, virtually indestructible space ships that patrol the universe issuing dictates and maintaining order. The heavy-handed way they maintain control is the source of much irritation to the Houses, the semi-feudal/corporate entities that run the commerce throughout Canon Space. But the Guardships not only keep a tyrannical pressure on human space, they also wage wars against alien empires that dare to reject their idea of order.
The story is told from three viewpoints. One is Lupo Provik, the consigliore of House Tregresser. He spends his time juggling/protecting the interests of three generations of the Tregresser line, all at an enforced peace with each other, while during his spare time he's trying to do the impossible and capture a Guardship. To help him with this he has made a family of clones and that gives new meaning to the word, incest! But the truth is, hes not the only one with clones. The interplay and uses of these expendable constructs and their Primes (the original) are fascinating.
The second viewpoint is from a genetically engineered alien, Kez Maefele, a Ku, who was bred to fight against the Guardships hundreds of years in the past. He was one of the top generals when the aliens surrendered and has been living in obscurity since. He haunts a section of town called Down Town, which is the literal location since most of the middle class live in a huge tower and the ruling classes live in a floating city. He ends up getting recaptured by a Guardship, VII Gemina, and taken for a ride around the quadrant while VII Gemina tries to find out who was behind the ambush that destroyed a Guardship. He ends up playing general again, allying himself with mysterious aliens and putting together a complex plan to defeat the Guardships.
The third point of view is from two of the Guardship personnel, the WarAvocat of VII Gemina, Hanaver Strate, the captain in charge during military operations, and a front line soldier, Jo Klass. Hanaver not only must figure out the complex plots woven by Lupo and Kez but must keep political control of VII Gemina which has a bunch of former WarAvocats kept alive in the computer and who have their own agendas. Jo Klass gets to invade hostile cities, stations, ships while killing mass quantities of humans and aliens. She also gets to go on a reconnaissance mission to find where some unsavory aliens are sneaking around Canon Space. She gets into her share of trouble and doesnt get out of everything in one piece. Suffice to say that the Tregressers arent the only ones with clone technology.
The history and theory of the Guardships are fascinating. The personnel profiles and ship records are regularly downloaded in a secure fortress, so if anything happens to either of them they can be cloned or rebuilt and their memories restored. This makes them functionally immortal. And this, as it is explained in one of the few philosophical moments, makes sure that their mission does not change from when it started two thousand years earlier.
The Guardships all have different personalities also. XII Fulminata is arrogant and demands the point position in the attacks. Other Guardships, such as VI Adjutrix, have totally consumed their crew and wander the universe on their own agendas. Throw into this mix the mystery of the Web, the galactic highway that makes faster than light travel possible, but no one knows if it is a construct or a natural phenomena. And it seems to be unraveling, not to mention haunted!
Cook is not given to explanatory asides. All background information is given during the course of the many plot lines. Which means you must carry questions along for some time. But it is all worth it. The intricate plots are all tied up in the end, maybe not too neatly, but not forced either. Rooting for the right people is not an easy guess either. Which one of the Tregressers is worthy? Are the Guardships guardian angels or tyrannical despots? Will the Ku agenda free or enslave Canon Space?
It is a great, great book, always in my top ten. Well worth the effort to find it. It was only printed once in 1988, as a mass-market paperback, and copies are now going for $10+. I have seen some copies that were signed by Cook in 2001 that go for $50. Maybe the renewed interest in this book will get him writing more SF. I hope this time greed can produce another classic.
NOTE: Since this article was written the book is back in print. Click the amazon.com link in the Overview column at the top right of the page.
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