a review: The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith


R. Lee Smith is a retiring writer. She hasn’t a Facebook page, Twitter handle, or detailed Amazon page. In fact, when you look for the latter, you see these few sentences:

R. Lee Smith is an author of epic-length sci-fi/horror erotica. If you purchase one of these books, expect to be sucked into a fascinating and long story.
Author’s pet phrase: 
“Help! I’m writing, and I can’t shut up!”
Her blog is impressively oblique and her Goodreads page is impersonal. 

I first heard of Ms. Smith’s work from a Dear Author review of her book Heat. Heat was 
one of my favorite books of 2012 and, were I to pick my top 25 romances, Heat would 
make the list. 

After reading Heat, I tried a few of her other books. They were interesting, but not compelling. All her work is unusual -after reading each book I’d think, “OK, I’ve never read anything like that before.”

Then, somewhere on the vast referral world of the Net, someone I pay attention to was reading and raving about The Last Hour of Gann. I was intrigued enough to go to Amazon and plunk down my $6.50 and download the book. I began reading it on Sunday night and by midnight realized that, despite all the demands my week proffered, all I would want to do was read this book.

It’s a damn long book and I, who can usually knock off a book a night, spent the next week dodging my responsibilities and reading. One week and 1929 KB later, I finished. That was six days ago. In that time I’ve tried to decide what it is I’d like to say about it. It’s not a work that lends itself to easy summary which is, perhaps, the best thing about it. 

I loved this book. It’s absorbing, thought-provoking, sexy, scary, brilliant, and daring. 

I can also say that the last third of it was hard to parse. I’d come to what I thought was the end and then, boom, something else (usually terrible) would happen. It’s unclear to me what parallels I am to draw from the civilization of Gann and our own destructive culture. There are things I didn’t really understand how they worked–language absorption  cross-species gestation, and the exact specifics of Gannian male anatomy. I also didn’t care whether or not these things were intuitively clear to me. I feel that, buried in the fabulous world building  there is a stern lesson for us mortals, something I tend to shy from, but, if there is, I can’t express what the take away from that lesson is. I do know it’s a great book.

You should read it, unless you have zero tolerance for cross-species rape, violence and moral ambiguity. 

I’ll try to summarize the plot, but please realize, it’s not really possible.

Amber Bierce lives in some futuristic version of Earth where pretty much every thing sucks. When she and her deliberately helpless sister Nici are forced to chose between utter degradation and an unknown future, Amber chooses the latter for them. 

That future is supposed to involve being sent to a new world in outer space and making a new place for humanity, sort of. However, the space ship Amber and her sister are (unconsciously) traveling on gets bombarded by asteroids and crashes. When all is said and done, Amber and Nici are part of a small band of humans who have survived the crash. 

As their group tried to figure out how to survive, they meet a native of the planet, a sentient creature who looks to be a cross between a man and a lizard. All the humans, other than Amber, assume this life form is intellectually limited and thus inferior. Amber, the smartest person in the group, quickly realizes this is not the case.

And, boy, is she right.

The lizardman, Meoraq, is a Sheulek, the highest order of leader there is on Gann. The planet’s ruling order is a religious one and, in that culture, Meoraq is from one of the most exalted houses in the land. He is the Sword of Sheul, God’s Striding Foot, a man whose will is law and whose purpose is to act as the mortal arm of God’s judgement. He’s an extraordinary warrior and a profound thinker. 

Meoraq has searched out Amber and her people because, when their ship crashed, it sent a pillar of flame into the air which could be seen for miles and miles. Meoraq saw it and interpreted it as a personal message to him from God. He sets off searching for the flame and then, using whatever he finds there, he plans to go to the most remote temple in the land, speak directly with God, and determine his destiny.

When Meoraq encounters the humans who to him are ugly, weak, and whose very existence belies the teachings of the Word of God, he decides he must help them. He can tell they are squabbling fools, concerned about selfish needs rather than group survival, and he dislikes them all… except for Amber.

Just as Amber can see Meoraq’s abilities, he can see hers. Amber isn’t easy to like. She’s blunt, bossy, bitchy, and proud. Her people listen to her only when their survival depends on it, and even then, they avoid and criticize her. 

Meoraq and Amber slowly become allies, both working to save the humans (for utterly different reasons), and then, in very odd ways, companions. Their bond is the central relationship in the book–the next would be Meoraq’s with God. 

The Last Hour of Gann is a love story–of, yes, Amber and Meoraq–but it’s a fraught tale. There are many on Gann who don’t live by God’s rules and who pose great danger to Meoraq, Amber, and the humans. The humans themselves behave in ways that risk their lives as well as those of Amber and Meoraq. Amber and Meoraq face violence, disillusionment, torment, and distance on their path to the future. 

And yet their pairing is sensual, sweet, funny, caring and life-affirming. The Last Hour of Gann is a walloping romance with an ending so worth waiting for.

As I read The Last Hour of Gann, I was reminded of my beloved TV show Battlestar Galactica. In both, the challenge the characters face is how to interact with The Other. The genius of both BSG and TLHoG is that, as you are drawn into the story, you and the characters you are watching/reading about begin to see The Other as first similar and then as the same. Meoraq and Amber are from different species on different worlds but, as they interact, their differences lose their edge. 

The love story is the central relationship in the book but its not the dominating story. The Last Hour of Gann is also a fabulous sci-fi novel. Ms. Smith’s world building is dazzlingly complete–you come away from the book feeling as though you have traveled to another place, somewhere wildly different from here and yet, as drawn by Ms. Smith, wonderfully apprehendable. Meoraq’s world, before he meets Amber, is defined by his faith which is complex and fascinating.

The Last Hour of Gann will certainly make my top ten list for 2013. I’m sure I’ll reread it in a month or so, in part because I loved it, but also because I don’t think I got it all the first go round. It’s a–to use a trite phrase–deep book, jammed full of ideas and images, plots and predicaments. It gets an A- from me.

4 thoughts on “a review: The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith

  1. Great review. I also loved this book to bits. So many deep issues that I feel were handled so deftly, especially in consideration of how long and vast this book is. I loved how Amber was unlikeable but an essentially good person at the onset and how Meoraq was extremely likeable but really a self-righteous, entitled a-hole when it came down to it. I loved the harshness of their struggles and the hanging on by a thread survival story. I really love how Smith goes about exposing things rather than explaining them — she has a way of interweaving exposition in a really seamless manner or just trusting the reader to figure it out.
    I can't remember if I've squeed about Smith's prior book “Cottonwood” on any of the threads I've seen you on (?). If so then I apologize for redundantly recommending that book as well. It too is a human/alien (this time insectoid) love story, but set on Earth in an internment camp for aliens and the love story is really beautiful and gentle and profound.

  2. That's interesting to hear about Cottonwood. From what I had seen about it I thought it was a bit too macabre for me. I'll give it another chance. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Loved Gann, loved Heat. It took me a while to finish Cottonwood. I had to take a 3 month break from its intensity. I finished it and am glad I did.

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