This book was haunting me for awhile. I came across a copy of the prop of Searider Falcon from BSG, which had the physical book of General Dann as its base. Then, a couple weeks later, my friend from library school gushed and gushed about how wonderful and post apocalyptic they were and how they had so much about the search for lost knowledge. So I realised I really had to read Mara and Dann and its sequel.
The book was very evocative in its descriptions of the terrain, culture and lives of those in Ifrik. It all felt very well defined and visual. I think this was its strongest point. The description of the world and the decayed and dying civilisations were really lovely. You felt the terror and awful loss. It was also nice to read a post-apocalyptic book that was set so far in the future, so many thousands of years after "the end of the world" and see what new and subsequent cultures had formed after our own. And to be honest, most of these cultures were just as bad and terrifying as what we have now. I have to say I kept hoping for more glimpses of what happened, and how the other cultures had come to be, particularly the one that made all the indestructible things. But there was enough to keep me interested.
Mara was an interesting character. She was intelligent and wanted to know how the world around her worked. Her greatest flaw though was that she was one of the most passive characters ever. (On a line with Evelyn Waugh's male protagonists). She had no desires and no goals, beyond simply learning about the past. The only time I can think of in the entire book when she did something active, was when she took her cow to get mated when she was still a young girl. Her entire adult life, once her brother returned was following him, or being placed in one situation after another. Apart from hunger she never faced any danger as wherever she went, be it brothel, slave traders, army everyone loved her and tried to protect her. She seemed to happily, or unhappily, float from situation to situation without any initiative or drive. She never tried to escape, or act to change anything about her life. It was frankly a little odd. Also, perhaps partly because of this, she seemed not to develop as a character, despite the trauma she'd been through. This trauma had an obvious and devastating affect on her brother Dann, who seemed to bear the brunt of most of it, and as such he grew and changed and became much more complex. Perhaps Mara was supposed to represent the passive female ideal, because at times she really felt more like a stereotype than a person.
Dann on the other hand was much more driven, and never gave up his ideal to go north. (Well except for that whole destruction with the opium addiction and then later with the gambling). But he was very active and caring, despite his callous nature towards the other slaves and refugees. It was interesting to see how he was so much more affected by everything, from the events of their original fleeing from their home, to his life as a slave. I felt that the only thing that was brushed aside was his life in the military as a general, and how quickly he was able to give that up to continue his search North.
I have to say the part of the book that stood out the clearest for me and seemed the most honest was when Mara realised that the older civilisations had birth control and she analysed what an impact this would have on women and women's liberation. The fact that they wouldn't always have to be afraid of men, afraid of getting pregnant but could be treated as equals and get on with their lives.
And I would like to say that starting a farm is the worst idea for the ending of sci-fi, and I'm getting a bit tired of it. Still I did enjoy the book a great deal and as soon as I finished it I picked up the sequel. I'm curious to read more Doris Lessing. She's definitely not god in my opinion. But I'm curious enough to give her another try after these....Continua