Marjorie Bradley Kellog: Harmony

Marjorie Bradley Kellog
ROC paperback edition 1991
473 pages

If you go around the secondhand bookshops in town, you will find some books that keep appearing on the shelves. There is always an element of doubt about such books - why are people so keen to get rid of them? Marjorie Bradley Kellog's "Daughters of Lear" books fit in this category. You will always find one (but curiously not both) of these books in any secondhand store. This is despite the fact that they are reasonably good books - good plot, reasonable characters and science. Harmony, on the other hand, should have a secure home among the ranks of unwanted books purely on merit.

The story is set in a near-future world suffering from ecological collapse. The major cities have established domes to protect themselves while the rest of the world rots. The story follows a young woman who leaves the repressive life of Chicago to become an apprentice set designer in Harmony. Harmony is an artists town - a flower in the otherwise rather nasty remains of the Earth. Then things start to change when a theatre troupe from the mysterious island of Tuamatutetuamatu arrive. It becomes a time of social upheaval.

There are a lot of potentially interesting aspects to the scenario built up in this book, however they are not developed at all. Much space is devoted to personalities and their relationships but ultimately all the characters remain two-dimensional cliches.

The author is a professional set designer in New York. In theory this should add interest and substance to the book because of the relevance of set design to the storyline and characters. It does not work that way in practice - set design plays a major part in the story yet the reader is given no guidance or explanation in understanding this esoteric art. Instead of adding an interesting new element, there is only an added level of confusion.

Harmony should be a good book but the implementation lets the ideas down. It is not a complete "dog" - you will not find it on anybodies "worst list". Rather it sits in the middle of that great mass of mediocre fiction that is churned out every year as an excuse to cut down trees. Unless you are really in to set design, leave it on the shelves.

Overall rating: Cruisin' the "main drag" in an '81 Lada.