Author: Jack Womack
Details: (c) 1990 Jack Womack; Pub Tor 1991; ISBN 0-812-50872-6
Verdict: Heathern is frightening and thought-provoking.
Reasons for reading it / how it came into my hands: Present from rysmiel
Heathern is not the sort of book I normally read: a near-future urban dystopia with a tank on the front cover and lots of violence. So I don't really have much to compare it to, but I didn't find it pointless and stupid, at least. A lot of the ways in which it is clever are really subtle, though; it's a book I found fairly hard going, because it's both intellectually difficult and emotionally off-putting.
I think I would like to put it aside for a while and then reread it, which is a fairly rare reaction for me to have to books, particularly books I don't like. When I say I don't like Heathern, I don't mean "I think it's a bad book", quite the opposite, just that I don't have much of a positive emotional reaction to it. Mind you, I think it would be quite hard to like the book, it's not a happy book even on the level of, yay, lots of explosions and blood and weapons and cool villains.
It's sort of a book about good and evil, which is an unexpected subject for this kind of cool urban SF. It's even weirder to find odd snippets of Jewish mysticism in such a setting. For most of the way through I thought it wasn't going to context the Jewish allusions at all, but eventually there are hints at least that that's what's going on. Very subtle hints, mind you, which makes me suspect there's other stuff that I've completely missed. Also I really wonder how this book would read for someone who didn't get that sense of familiarity but just read that stuff as part of the SF setting's internal wacky theology.
Joanna makes a very interesting viewpoint character, as a fairly ordinary person caught up in the minor bureaucracy of evil. Not the sort of person who is often any kind of protagonist in fiction, but obviously people like Joanna are what makes the nastier bits of history possible. It's very possible to sympathize with her and her emotional torment at the awfulness of what she has become, but Heathern doesn't take the easy route of suggesting that it's all ok because she feels guilty. Thatcher Dryden is a chillingly believable villain; he is extremely evil, but also a real human being, not a Bond villain whose only motivation is evil for its own sake.
Partly because the characters are so plausible the dystopian setting seems plausible too. I'm more scared that Heathern might be prophetic than I have been by almost anything else I've read. I also really don't know what to make of the ending.