The Last Dancer

by Daniel Keys Moran

Cover image

Series: Continuing Time #3
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: November 1993
ISBN: 0-553-56249-5
Format: Mass market
Pages: 594

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This is the third book of Moran's Continuing Time series, and while the books are readable out of order, it's a better story if you know the background of the telepaths and Trent the Uncatchable. It's also largely a background dump, which is far more satisfying if your curiosity has been whetted by the previous books.

The previous two books in this series were fairly tight linear narratives. This is a sprawl. It opens with a Dancer pursued by a Shield far in earth's past, recaps part of Emerald Eyes, switches to follow Denice Castanaveras on her search to do something useful to improve Unification politics and the lot of the United States, and then switches between multiple viewpoints to show the progress of the rebellion with some long interludes to explain Dancers and Shields and fill in the history of Moran's universe. Two things come across clearly: the depth and complexity of Moran's universe and mythology, and the author's love of his setting. The latter sometimes overflows the story, but if one spent The Long Run intrigued by what was going on behind the scenes, it's nice to get a long look.

This is not the smoothest-reading book I've read. At times, it's quite disjointed, and some of the recap of the long years of Shields hunting Dancers once Dvan starts telling his story are downright boring. However, when the story clicks, Moran does sense-of-wonder SF as well as anyone I've read. This is not hard science fiction. It has all of the scientific accuracy of Star Wars; it's full of telepaths, mystical universe-tapping powers, time travel, alien manipulators of the human race, unstoppable martial arts, warring AIs, and strange gods. It's about people who are the best, strongest, most-powerful of their kind. It's a blast of pure entertainment, set in a thorough and complex background, full of moments of awe and satisfying bits of exposition.

This book focuses mostly on Denice and her growth into the first human Dancer, something that was alluded to several times in the previous books. Trent (Moran's best character) does show up briefly in the middle of the war, but unfortunately we don't see much of him and don't find out the rest of his story. His sections are still some of the best parts of the book and his philosophy helps Denice considerably. I dearly wish the duology about Trent that was supposed to follow this book had been finished and published.

Denice, though, isn't a bad character in her own right, particularly if you're in the mood for reading about someone learning to become the best and strongest, partly under the care of a quirky teacher. It's a well-trod plot, but in moderation it's emotionally satisfying and Moran writes it well. More notably, he does an excellent job avoiding clear-cut moral divisions. The bad guys turn out to be not so bad, the reader's allegiance with the warring factions of the larger Continuing Time struggle shift several times as more details come out, and the book is full of people doing bad things for good reasons and sometimes good things for bad reasons. I loved how the most sympathetic teacher in the book is a teacher of what seems to be the dark side of the underlying mystical martial arts power and the "light" teachers are serving the bad guys (not to mention being horribly misogynistic). As in The Long Run, the heroes triumph by finding balances and third paths where none were apparent, which makes for a more satisfying story than a simple good versus evil struggle.

Despite being something of a mess, and featuring some erratic pacing, The Last Dancer is well-worth tracking down if you enjoyed the previous books. The Long Run is by far the best book of the series, and this doesn't quite live up to it, but it fills in far more of the universe background and the details don't disappoint. Moran isn't going to blow you away with his originality, but for the type of story and universe he's building his execution is excellent.

Unfortunately, finding this book may require some doing, as it's badly out of print. I'm hoping Moran will do well enough selling the reissues of the previous two that The Last Dancer will come out in an inexpensive reissue.

In theory followed by The AI War, which is even mentioned in some book front-jackets as having been published. Alas, it hasn't, despite in theory being almost finished, and at this point I've mostly given up hope that it will ever materialize.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-10-19

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21