The problem with these prolific, Hugo-award winning sci-fi authors is it’s hard to be sure you’re starting with their best stuff.
I’m on a sci-fi kick lately, but this book caught my eye for another reason: A “dramaturge” is a theater term, it’s the person who researches plays and sets the scene. So this book appealed not only to my sci-fi geek side, but also my latent theater geek side.
It starts with a small settlement of 300 or so humans, living alongside the natives on the planet of Yan. The Yanfolk have lived in a stable, agrarian society for thousands of years with no change. Although the Yanfolk lead a simple life, their landscape is littered with fantastic artifacts, left behind by a mysterious group of Yan called “the dramaturges.” The dramaturges hit their peak 10,000 years ago, when their amazing skills destroyed the planet’s moon.
Life changes when a famous human artist named Gregory Chart arrives. Chart’s performances are more like mass dreams and hallucinations, usually on the continental or planetary scale, and he wants to re-enact the age of the dramaturges. The Yanfolk agree, and they begin brewing a powerful drug called shrimashey (sp?). Chart’s art and the drug help the Yanfolk combine into one massive hive consciousness — the dramaturge is the entire species.
The dramaturge is like the dream of power of an entire race — in a fit of pride, the massed consciousness tears the planet from its orbit, sending it spinning into the deep freeze of space. The human race looks on, awestruck, as the seemingly primitive race destroys itself in a cataclysm.
In practice, however, the book isn’t nearly that awesome. It runs about 150 pages, and spends the first two-thirds on the small-town politics of the human enclave.
Wikipedia lists a pretty extensive bibliography for John Brunner (novelist), including at least one Hugo winner. This sure wasn’t it.