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Those of My Blood by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Published by Benbella Books

When I originally encountered this novel in its 1988 St. Martin's Press edition, the future it described didn't seem all that distant or unimaginable. At that time, I still thought the ending of the Apollo moon landing program was just a temporary hiatus, and once we got a proper space station in orbit, we'd resume lunar exploration and soon have a permanent moonbase. It certainly went with that edition's presentation of the novel as straightforward science fiction, as evidenced by the cover art of a lunar landscape and a big dish antenna.

Two decades later, with the space program a shambles of canceled equipment and no clear path for the future, Jacqueline Lichtenberg's vision of a near future in which we have not only one major moonbase, but a second, satellite one built around the wreckage of an alien spacecraft that crashed on the lunar surface, seems more like some kind of rocketpunk alternate history than a future we could actually reach from the here and now. Yet paradoxically, the specifics of the technologies she describes don't really seem to have collected that much Zeerust over the years, particularly when one compares it to lunar-settlement classics such as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Far from it, some of the computer technology, especially the handhelds that several major characters wager in a game, seem quite prescient when one realizes this novel was originally written when portable computers were still struggling to move out of the "luggable" category and into true notebook computer territory.

However, part of it is the simple fact that the focus of the story really isn't the technology. A lot of the basic moonbase technology probably could be built in the here and now, if only there were sufficient political and social will to get off our butts and our buts and actually spend the money to create the necessary infrastructure to do so. But of course that would require money, which would mean having to sacrifice other programs that always have somebody ready to go to bat for them.

Instead, the primary storyline of Those of My Blood is really the network of conflicting personal ties that surround the protagonist, Titus Shiddehara, and his struggles to navigate safely through their perils to emerge reasonably intact. In particular, the harsh conflict between his obligations toward a controlling father who often indulges in spiteful behavior toward him and his love for a woman he thought forever lost.

Not an unfamiliar sort of dysfunctional relationship, except for one thing -- Titus is a vampire. More specifically, he is a member of an alien subspecies of human known as the luren, who have a constellation of physical traits which closely match the traditional vampire legends. His ancestors crashlanded on Earth untold centuries earlier, and have been living in hiding among humans and siring children on them (this novel was written when less was known about human evolutionary genetics, so that a story in which humans are in fact an alien race that has come to or been planted on Earth was still sorta-kinda plausible). Their reproductive habits as described seem to be a sort of brood parasitism in which male vampires use the telepathic power known as Influence to gain sexual access to random human women without their knowledge, and then leave the women and their husbands to unwittingly raise the vampire's child as their own -- a sort of mammalian version of the reproductive strategies of the cuckoo or the cowbird. One would almost think that there are no female luren -- except that the leader of the faction to which Titus belongs is a woman, known only as Connie. So there are clearly female luren, but it is never clearly explained why they and the male luren are not having normal familial relationships and raising their own children rather than brood-parasitizing humans, especially as the story develops and more information becomes available about the customs of luren on their homeworld.

And the division of the terrestrial luren into factions is at the root of the problem Titus faces, for his father -- not his genetic sire, but the luren who raised him from apparent death (actually a form of hibernation) by offering his lifeblood -- is a member of the other faction. Specifically, Abbott Nandoha is a member of the faction that calls themselves the Tourists, regarding Earth as a temporary place of exile and its human population as little better than cattle, useful but not owed any sort of respect. He originally indoctrinated Titus into that belief system, but Titus was never able to accept such a cold and instrumental view of the people he had once considered himself a part of, and eventually ran away to join the other faction, the Residents, who regard themselves as a vampiric subtype of human, with obligations toward those upon whose blood they feed for survival.

However, that rupture came at a cost, and carries with it grave risks. The paternal link between a luren and his sire is not merely psychological, but has strong physical components as well. To openly defy one's father is well-night impossible, and even attempting to resist comes with substantial physical and psychological costs.

So long as Titus has been able to avoid Abbott, it hasn't been an issue. But now that he is going to the Moon and involving himself in Project Hail, the effort to contact the creators of the wrecked spacecraft, things aren't so easy. He knew that he would be working in opposition to a Tourist agent who would be trying to send a message to the luren homeworld to tell them of this wonderful new world, ripe for the picking. However, when he discovers that the Tourist agent is none less than Abbott himself, things become an entire order of magnitude harder.

Even as they travel from Earth to the wheel in the sky space station that will be the transshipment point for their trip to the Moon, Titus and Abbott contend with one another, each seeking supremacy. One of their seatmates suggests a game of chance, to be played for the stakes of each other's handheld computers. Titus is able to win Abbott's handheld, and thus gain access to the special chip Abbott is carrying, a chip that will be critical in imposing the secret Tourist signal upon the signal that the space probe will be sending toward the supposed origin of the alien wreck. By sheer force of will Titus manages to destroy it even as Abbott exerts his considerable telepathic Influence to compel Titus to surrender it.

In retaliation, Abbott places his Mark upon the woman who proposed the game, a woman with whom Titus had become friendly. It's clearly and deliberately an attack on Titus -- there's no real evidence Abbott was all that interested in her, just the fact that Titus was interested in her, and that placing her out of his reach would cause him grief. It's a very bad note on which to begin a mission upon which the fate of all Terrans -- humans, Residents and Tourists alike -- may well depend.

Three days later they arrive on the Moon and things get worse. Among the other scientists of Project Hail is a woman whom Titus thought he would never see again -- Inea Cellura, who had been his fiancee before the disastrous automobile wreck that had led to his apparent death and subsequent resurrection as a vampire. A woman he still feels emotionally attached to, and who can betray him just by the knowledge that is in her head, knowledge that can slip out through an unconscious reaction, or even a failure to react.

Yet he cannot bear to use his telepathic Influence to block her memories and force her to see him as a complete stranger. It feels too much like a violation of her essential self. So in contravention to the laws by which luren live with one another secretly among humanity he goes to her and strives to get her on his side as a willingly cooperative ally. In doing so, he must betray secrets he had sworn to keep -- but he is certain that her love for him will enable her to see him as a person, not simply a monster, in spite of the fundamental biological changes in his manner of living.

With his interpersonal relations in disarray, he makes an even more awkward discovery -- the wreck is in fact a luren starship, and the intact corpse from which the scientists hope to clone a child to study isn't dead at all. Instead the badly injured luren has gone into hibernation in order to regenerate his injuries -- which means that if the scientists go ahead and perform what they think is an autopsy, they'll be murdering a helpless person. But if they don't and the luren comes out of hibernation without another luren in attendance to provide vital luren blood, the resurrection will go very badly indeed. Ordinary human blood cannot fully slake the thirst of a luren first out of hibernation, a thirst that can bring on a sort of madness known as going feral. Titus has had to help hunt down and destroy such feral vampires, so he knows there is no cure for the condition save final death.

Even as Titus struggles to find a way to ensure the hibernating luren is not killed or allowed to go feral, he comes under attack while exercising in the centrifuge that is supposed to simulate Earth-normal gravity. It's intended to look like an accident, but there are too many clues that point otherwise. Worse, Titus is injured badly enough that he goes into a light hibernation to heal himself, and comes dangerously close to going feral when unwitting medtechs awaken him improperly.

So he's in a very bad state when his hand is forced and he has to become father to the other luren, who comes out of hibernation. H'lim Sa'ar is an animal breeder with veterinary skills, and was transporting breeding stock of orl, the nearly-human primates who were the traditional blood hosts of the luren. He knows a great deal about the biological sciences, particularly genetics and medicine, but next to nothing about the physics of interstellar flight or the political situation. He knows there are two major star nations that are at war with one another, and there have been ugly incidents, but he has no idea of the ideologies that motivate the two sides. (It should be remembered that this novel was originally written while the Cold War was still going on and the US vs. USSR faceoff was still a fundamental reality of the political landscape). However, the hints he drops here and there will be particularly meaningful for those who have read the companion novel Dreamspy.

Worse, Titus becomes increasingly aware that Abbott does not hate him or wish to destroy him. Rather, in his own strange way Abbott still loves Titus, and wants to bring him back into the Tourist fold and make him back into a son to be proud of. So the conflict between them increasingly becomes the sort of any loving parent and child who have ended up on opposite sides of a fundamental philosophical divide, whether it be religious, political, or otherwise.

And the news that the alien has been awakened and is moving among the population of Project Station has made an already volatile political situation on Earth deadly. Xenophobia runs wild, and a significant part of the population don't feel that merely cutting off all supply runs to the Moon is sufficient protection. They want the entire base destroyed along with everyone and everything in it.

All these threads are brought together in a masterful confrontation, complete with a trek across the lunar surface and acts of noble self-sacrifice by surprising characters. The ending is hopeful, although in a guarded way. No, humanity will not be throwing wide the gates to interstellar trade -- we're not yet ready to meet the interstellar community as equals, and until we come closer to technological parity, contact holds grave risks (here Lichtenberg holds the view that it's not just Stone Age peoples who need protection, but any society, no matter how advanced, that is in contact with another society significantly more advanced -- it's implied that even the advanced society from which H'lim comes would be at risk if they were to encounter something like the Q from Star Trek, or H. P. Lovecraft's cosmic entities).

Review posted December 10, 2011.

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