A three-way collaboration on a novella sounds like something that won’t work well, despite having big names like those involved in Shadow Twin. However, in this case, it works – not perfectly, but quite well.
Ramon is an independent prospector on a remote, earth-like planet that has recently been colonized by humans. Down on his luck, he sets out to score ‘the big one’ in the distant mountains to the north where little prospecting has been done. He discovers a hidden alien race that attacks and destroys his camp. Ramon escapes.
The aliens, needing to remain hidden, hunt for Ramon. In order to properly do so, they create a clone to do the tracking – classic ‘set a thief to catch a thief’ thinking. Cloned Ramon struggles with his identity, having all the memories of real Ramon, and grudgingly aids an alien companion, secretly hoping for escape.
The above synopsis does not do justice to the Shadow Twin, which is a powerful story. Ramon is not a likeable guy – he angry, violent, self-destructive, and abusive towards women. Yet, Ramon shows a clear love and even respect for the environment, struggling with the consequences of discovering mineral wealth. The superb characterization actually allows for sympathy for this bastard of a man early in the story. It is also very refreshing to have a protagonist that is of a Latino descent.
The early experiences of cloned Ramon hit on some very primal fears of humanity – claustrophobia, injury, nakedness, despair; you fear for Ramon. His later struggles with self, especially as he is confronted with his real self, is powerfully written. Ramon sees what he is, what he is becoming, and strives to for change – but at what cost.
My only real complaints about the story are related to wanting more. The aliens are intriguing and utterly alien in thought and action, yet work as little more than a literary device. I want more – Martin asserts in the Afterward that Shadow Twin should be a full-length novel; I agree wholeheartedly. Here’s to hoping.
One of the most interesting aspects of Subterranean Press Limited Edition of Shadow Twin is the Afterward I mention above – a conversational back-and-forth between Duzois, Martin, and Abraham. Dozois and Martin reminisce about the origins of the novella in the late 1970s, when Dozois originally conceived the concept. Abraham occasionally quips about how old he wasn’t at the time. We see its resurrection after 20 years in limbo and here of the contrasts between the modernist style of Abraham and the old-school styles of Martin and Dozois. The collaboration comes together seamlessly, with different styles and voices blended.
On my 10-point rating scale, Shadow Twin rates a solid 8. I enjoyed this novella a lot and recommend it to all fans of SFF, not just the Martin fanboys (and fangirls). The only thing lacking is more – and there just might be hope for that.