In a Kansas hotel room, John Christian meets the Keeper, a supernatural alien from the people of Drusba. As the spiritual watcher of his people, he requests John’s help to avert a would-be devastating conflict between the Drusbanians and the Regin “savages.” So begins a sci-fi/dystopian adventure story of the most middling sort, several steps below the most campy of Star Trek episodes.
The Drusbanians are a contented people: they care only for their families and their grain production and lack any interest in politics, social progress, or questioning the status quo. Centuries ago, they erected a giant wall to keep out their warring enemy, the Regin. This wall doubly serves as the chief metaphor of the novel—as Hall repeatedly reminds us in painstaking fashion—as the way in which the Drusbanians have completely cut themselves off from curiosity about themselves and the world around them.
As it turns out, the Regin may not be the mindless savages the Drusbanians imagine them to be; also utterly without surprise, the Drusbanians’ complete trust in their leaders may lead to disastrous consequences. It is the task of the humans the Keeper has summoned to sort out this mess and awaken the Drusbanians to their hypocrisies and foibles, in order to save both the Regin and Drusbanian societies.
Unfortunately, the novel does so completely without luster. The three human protagonists, who should at least have some element of life when compared to the sheep-like Drusbanians, are flat and uninteresting. Besides a desire to go home, none of them experiences anything in the way of emotion and little of conflict, forcing the interest and tension of the novel to be derived entirely from the hackneyed plot. The result is a plot that attempts to encourage interest by telling you what you should find interesting. I feel it’s an unspoken rule of satire that pointing out the parallels between the flaws of the subject society and your own shouldn’t require saying, “I guess we act the same way they do.” This explicit storytelling is present in the dialogue as well: there are only so many times you can read that someone responded “in a sarcastic tone” before sinking into despair.
This may have been a decent short story, but there isn’t enough interest in the world to warrant a 400-plus page novel. The world of Drusba isn’t made particularly exciting, and when Hall does attempt to insert color with far-off journeys and refreshing swims in orange water, it is irrelevant to the plot and only serves the two-dimensional ideology of the novel. When this is coupled with tired, been-done critiques of human fallacies and a narrative totally devoid of style, the result is a novel that cannot sustain itself.