Of course, George R R Martin is somebody everybody’s now heard of given the phenomenal success of the Game of Thrones TV series, but back in the 80s you may have struggled to find much of his work, despite an excellent early career and a decent selection of genre awards at the time (incl. Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Bram Stoker). Written in collaboration with Lisa Tuttle, the original concept for Windhaven was formed back in the 70s, the first part appearing in the May 1975 issue of Analog under the title The Storms of Windhaven — yup, both these authors have been writing for a very long time… I was in my teens when I first read this compilation (it’s three short stories in one but you’d struggle to guess), so it’s marvellous to see it being published once again and given a tidy face lift c/o the folks at Gollancz, although the 1988 Steve Weston cover art is still the most iconic imho (see below).
Windhaven is a water world of tiny islands that only stay connected through the exploits of the prestigious flyers, a talented and privileged silver-winged troupe who pass messages from one island to the next, but they remain a ‘closed shop’ until Maris of Amberley, a fisherman’s daughter, makes a stand and fights against the system. A better flyer than most and constantly reminded of her place in the world, Maris argues her case and seeks change, but with change comes revolution and a whole host of other problems rooted in the base instincts of jealousy and loss.
And so this tale begins with Maris fighting against the way of things, trying to change established norms so that flyers are required to earn their wings through merit and skill rather than having them handed down as some form of inheritance/rite of passage… One can probably recognise where this is heading as the revolution begins, but this single change brings with it a plethora of associated social issues and political repercussions, none of which she is really prepared for.
Well written, well told, the focus throughout remains on Maris and her closest associates, and much as I would have liked to see things from the perspective of rebel flyer Val One-Wing, his latent animosity and all-round nastiness really does shine through every encounter, even when they appear to be on the same page for a short while…
In summary, this is a great tale that demonstrates not only the talent of both authors, but shows once again why we love any story in which the exploration of love and loss, of simply being human and fighting against expectation and social pressure, will always win us over.