The Prodigal is crewed by bounty hunters, led by Talon McLeod, a gruff, Captain Malcom Reynolds meets JK Simmons figure, who are trying to bring in just enough bounty to keep their space faring vessel in the sky. Devon Chase, a trusted member of McLeod’s crew, convinces McLeod to consider Kale Ravenwood for a new crew member, but the head of the bounty hunters finds himself unsure as to whether hiring the man was a good idea when he can’t seem to stop himself from killing the bounty. In three short stories, A.C. Williams puts her full craft on display as a master of dialogic imagination by creating three distinct voices and perspectives on the enigma that is Kale Ravenwood.
This past Spring semester, I taught a course on the British novel, and I had my students read Bakhtin’s essay, The Discourse in the Novel. Bakhtin’s central thesis is that the value of the novel is its capacity to help readers develop our dialogic imagination: to become aware that the language we speak inhabits many different communities of language, that we have a family language, a friend language, an on the job language, a religious language, an at school language, etc etc, and the feeling that through all of this we speak only one language (English or whatever) is only grammatically true. The reality of the multiplicity of languages we inhabit runs much more deeply, and this manifests itself when we try to talk with our family about, for example, the value of our career choices. Language is shot through with values, assumptions, intuitions, and basic components of personality in ways that require us to have a dialogic imagination not only with others but with the many identities which we inhabit as well. As I tell my students, we are less like characters in novels and more like novels ourselves. That’s why great novels are challenging to read: so are we.
Bringing to life in deft prose the challenges of communication, Ravenwood: A Morningstar Series Anthology is a series of short stories which introduces characters in A.C. Williams’s series of novels, the Destiny Trilogy. I have not read the Destiny Trilogy yet, but after reading Ravenwood, I fully intend to do so now. Williams’s writing style puts on full display the power of well-crafted prose to bring to life the dialogic imagination of truly different characters. Ashes, Rise, and Burn each present a vision of Kale Ravenwood as well as the tenor of the Prodigal crew as a team. What’s impressive is that each story is delivered in an overall unified style, the hard-boiled, tough-as-nails mentality necessary to survive the bounty hunter life shared by all of the characters, and yet each narrator speaks with a voice authentic to his or her own identity. As Bakhtin believed narrative prose was best suited to do, the short stories in the anthology beautifully represent how complicated actual communication between people is when they think they are speaking the same language, but really aren’t.
With dialogue worthy of Joss Whedon himself, Ravenwood reads like a creative fusion of Cowboy Bebop and Firefly (and maybe a hint of Riddick via Kale Ravenwood), introducing a science fiction world of space travel and artificially produced atmospheres that is artfully rendered without the barest hint of info-dumping. The action is vividly portrayed and the characters are so compelling that you can easily miss how naturally Williams derives plot from personality rather than the other way around. The use of the present tense, a tactic used by other science fiction writers (including Terry Brooks in Street Freaks) contributes to the concentrated immediacy of the stories. Once you get through Ravenwood, you’ll want to get your hands on the Destiny trilogy immediately. That’s what I am doing!