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Review © 2003 T. M. Wagner.
Book cover artist not credited.


Warren Norwood's writing career seems to have come and gone with the 80's, but for a short time he wrote a spate of intriguing and often original, if never major, novels. His debut was this tetralogy starring "contract diplomat" Gerard Manley, a representative of the Fed (honestly, how many "federations" does SF need?) whose career found him travelling the breadth of the galaxy in his sentient vessel, the Windhover, recording his experiences on the titular tapes.

In An Image of Voices, we meet Manley as he is undertaking a series of new assignments after having had his memory wiped from the previous one, which we are led to understand was something less than successful. And yet the procedure to block Manley's memory was imperfect, as he is haunted by dreams of a woman he calls Fairy Peg. Who was she, what was his relationship to her, and to what disastrous end did it come that warranted having his memory blocked by the Fed?

Though short, An Image of Voices is episodic. Norwood's approach to the story will not appeal to all readers, putting this series squarely in the "a matter of taste" category. But as I warmed up to it, I found the novel became more absorbing, as Norwood threw Manley into one captivating adventure after another; just wanting to know what was coming next kept me going. Manley finds himself stuck at one point in the middle of a violent revolutionary war; then he must broker a treaty for a Fed base on the planet Quadra, whose native population consists entirely of ghosts!

And yet for all the imagination at work, it is true that An Image of Voices falls short of involving you as fully as a really great novel should. The diary format, the detail with which Norwood relates some scenes and the abruptness with which he races through others, serves in the end to keep you at arm's length. You are a detached observer in Manley's life, never a full participant, and it is only the underlying mystery of Fairy Peg and Manley's growing need to unravel his suppressed past that gives the story an emotional core. Another of the book's intriguing plot elements, Manley's fascination with dechipering an alien myth cycle called the Tenderfoot legend with the help of a young researcher he falls in love with early in the story (and does this myth in some way relate to his own life?), provides the subtextual thematic thread that ends up linking what would otherwise be a disparate collection of scenes.

I think readers open-minded to Norwood's unconventional approach will find much imagination here to impress them, even if it must be said that The Windhover Tapes is not, in the end, a wholly successful experiment. But Norwood showed enough compelling talent with this debut (he has a real love for, and command of, language; poetry plays an enormous role not only in the Tenderfoot legend but apparently every alien culture with which Manley comes into contact) that he is worth adding to your list on your next used book store crawl.