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Book cover art by Michael Whelan.
Review © 1997 by Thomas M. Wagner.

Though obviously dated in many respects, The Night Face is good earlyish Anderson, set in the universe of the Polesotechnic League, that holds up reasonably well as an adventure and an examination of an alien culture, despite being painted in some very broad strokes.

Gwydion is a remote world colonized by humans, that has been more or less isolated from the rest of humanity for over 1000 years following the collapse of the Terran Empire. Miguel Tolteca of the mercantile world Namerica, and Raven of the regimented and militaristic Lochlanna civilization, belong to a team who have journeyed to Gwydion to re-establish some relations with the Gwydiona, learn more about their mysterious way of life, and discuss the possibility of establishing a base on the planet.

The Gwydiona have a pacifistic, holistic philosophy that embraces all of creation; at one point one character announces "We are God." (Amusing how Anderson's leitmotif here predates the New Age craze of the '80's by 20 years or so.) Violence, crime, war, you know, all that icky stuff seems alien to them; and though they are conscious of the dangers of life (they categorize the good and bad into the Day Faces and Night Faces) such dangers seem to play an infinitesimal part of Gwydion's reality. Indeed, the Gwydiona appear to have achieved an ideally harmonious existence. So you just know the shit is going to hit the fan really, really hard here, don't you?

If it all sounds a little too archetypal and trite, it's not so bad, really, despite the obvious aura of impending danger and Anderson's banal inclusion of a love triangle. The story itself benefits from its brevity (136 pages), a trio of interesting lead characters, and a brisk pace, plus a very neat twist in the readers' expectations when the precise nature of what is really wrong with this picture begins to emerge. The story's resolution and climax are also gripping and satisfying, and the tale as a whole is never unbelievable or implausible. It's just that I think most readers today might prefer something a little less simplistic in the setup. Yet the book might very well be ideal fare for younger readers.

I myself would have loved to have seen this tale expanded upon, and the Gwydiona culture explored with much more depth. The Night Face is the reading equivalent of a light snack, tasty on its own terms if not quite as nourishing as a full meal.