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The Merro Tree by Ketie Waitman
Published by Del Ray Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Merro Tree by Katie Waitman is the story of a brilliant but troubled artist, Mikk, who is on trial for his life for the crime of performing a forbidden art. Mikk is a member of a humanoid race known as Vyzanians, who live for a thousand years and have perfect memories. After a childhood of terrible abuse by a mother who should never have been entrusted with a child, he comes into his own under the gentle but stern tutelage of an elderly performance master, and ultimately becomes a performance master in his own right. A performance master is a special kind of artist in galactic culture, who seeks to learn and weave together all known forms of the performing arts, from music to dance to stage magic. In the process he discovers the Somalite songdance, a beautiful mystical art that has never been mastered by any offworlder. When Somal's sun begins to decay (apparently goes off the main sequence into the red giant phase, although Waitman's astrophysics is weak on this) and send out deadly radiation, the last dying Somalites ask that Mikk never attempt to perform or teach songdance again. A political enemy twists this into a galactic ban, which Mikk tries to obey for a time. But when another artist publicly performs a mockery of songdance at a political rally, Mikk feels he must act, even at the cost of his life. He shows people what the true songdance is, and then must go through a wracking trial in which his enemies seek to trap him by underhanded means. In the end he escapes through a mechanism reminiscent of Androcles and the lion, then makes a mad dash about the galaxy disguised as a Somalite songdancer, and leads to the overthrow of the Galactic Council that enacted the ban. In the very last chapter he finds a street child who is apparently the offspring of a chance encounter between a Vyzanian and a Somalite, and takes the child in to nurture and teach.
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Review posted December 1, 1998