Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Summer Queen, by Joan D. Vinge

Honorable Lives

The Summer Queen, by Joan D. Vinge. I began this book on the airplane on the way to Slovenia. It was a long flight, but it’s a big book. I continued on the airplane on the way back. Then I read it every day since then, a chapter or two a day. I finished it today. Something to celebrate, something to mourn.

It was an engaging book—so engaging I had trouble setting it down to go about the tasks of the day. It’s a masterpiece of science fiction and human interactions. I loved it. I loved the fact that it is such a big book—I never wanted it to end. But when it finally did, I was pleased that the ending was worthy of the depth and craft of the book.

The book is so dense and so filled with action at so many levels that it would be hard to summarize it. Moon has become the Queen of Tiamat, but her job of saving the mers seems impossible. The mers, source of the water of life that prolongs human life, were temporarily safe, but her lover finds, heals and saves the stardrive that allows the mer hunters to return to Tiamat. The struggle that ensues is consuming and difficult. The ending is rewarding. I have a problem when talking about books. I hate to reveal anything that might spoil the book for anyone else. I despise it when reviewers spoil books for me.

The best way to talk about this book is to give one small example from it. One page from 670 is hardly fair, but better than anything I can say. Here is one page, page 115:

"Ananke!" Kedalion shouted again, an excuse to look away, an excuse to raise his voice. He saw with some annoyance that Ananke had gotten sidetracked into an argument with a group of boys who had begun tossing something cat-sized back and forth in imitation of his juggling. Kedalion recognized the shrilling of a quoll in distress; heard Ananke's voice rise above the general laughter as he tried to catch the animal they were throwing like a ball across farther and farther stretches of air. They angled across the square, drawing him away from the hovercraft.

Reede's head swung around as the animal began to shriek in terror or pain. He stood motionless, watching the scene; muttered something to himself about being a stupid asshole, "Ananke!" Kedalion shouted again; feeling his stomach knot with disgust, not sure whether it was the scene in the street or Reede's reaction to it that angered him more. "You bastard," he muttered, looking back at Reede before he started out into the square himself—just as one of the boys shouted, "Catch this, juggler!" and pitched the wailing quoll into the air in a long arc. Ananke ran and leaped after it, futilely, crashing into the low ceralloy wall that rimmed the neighborhood cistern. Ananke barely kept himself from falling in as the quoll flew over his head, down into the depths of the spring-fed tank.

Kedalion stopped moving as he saw the quoll go into the cistern. Ananke hung motionless over the wall, staring down into the tank like a stunned gargoyle.

Someone pushed past Kedalion, jarring him; he saw Reede run out across the square to the cistern. Reede climbed onto the wall, stood looking down into the depths for a heartbeat, and then jumped.

"Edhu—!" Kedalion gasped. He began to run. Ananke was still hanging over the cistern's rim, staring down into the well in disbelief as Kedalion reached his side. Kedalion peered over the rim, just able to see down to where the water surface lay in the deep shadows below. He blinked the sunlight out of his eyes, heard splashing and panic-stricken squealing echo up the steep seamless walls. He saw Reede in the water far below, struggling to get ahold of the floundering creature. At last Reede clamped it in both hands and shoved it inside his shirt, kicked his way toward the steps that spiraled down the cistern's interior.

Women and girls with water jugs balanced on their heads stood gaping as he hauled himself up out of the water onto the platform where they had gathered; they backed away as he staggered to his feet and started the long climb up the steps. Kedalion and Ananke watched him come, with the animal held against him, still struggling futilely.

Reede reached the street level at last, his eyes searching the crowd. Kedalion hurried forward, with Ananke trailing behind him.


Reede turned at his voice, waited at the top of the stairs until they reached him. He wasn't even breathing hard, Kedalion noticed—Reede had more physical stamina than any three men. But water streamed from his hair and clothing, his arms and chest oozed red from the scratches and bites the frantic quoll had inflicted on him in its struggles.

"Bishada!" Ananke cried, grinning with awe and gratitude. "You saved it—"

Reede read the expression on the boy's face, and his own face twisted. "No. You saved the fucking thing," he said. He reached into his shirt and dragged the animal out, slung it at Ananke. "Here. You know the rule by now. You save it, it
belongs to you. It's your responsibility. Not mine."

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book, and the others in the series, is the struggle of the characters to lead honorable lives and do the right thing—or not. I find this struggle compelling and important. The main characters are well-developed, round, whole (or broken, each in their own way), and fully formed. Even the minor characters become real through the course of the book.

It’s the third book in a series of four. They can be read alone; each stands on it’s own. They are powerful alone, but even more powerful together. I highly recommend it and them. I am eager to read the next book, Tangled up in Blue.
Posted by Picasa


BerryBird said...

Is this the final volume in a series?

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

It’s the third book in a series of four. They can be read alone; each stands on it’s own. They are powerful alone, but even more powerful together. I highly recommend it and them. I am eager to read the next book, Tangled up in Blue.

It's the third--the last one, Tangled up in Blue, is much smaller.

Joan D. Vinge has an interview in the first book worthy of the reading.

And the Psion books are great too (The Cat Series).