Thoughts: Joan D Vinge “The Snow Queen”

What does it say about a book that halfway through it I put it aside and read seven other books before coming back to finish it? Were it not for the fact that I take a particular pride in finishing every book I start I might not have finished it at all.

The book is “The Snow Queen” by Joan D Vinge and had I read Vinge’s bio in my Illustrated Science Fiction Encyclopedia* before I started reading it, I would have been pre-disposed to liking it. But I didn’t and perhaps that is a good thing.

My encyclopedia says of the book that it “represent(s) one of the most ambitious attempts to combine the structures of fable, which shape fantasy, but are rarely thought to shape SF, with a surface plot consistent with SF”.

Perhaps it would have been better had Vinge split this book into two or three books maybe, so that she could veer off and elaborate on the personal stories of the secondary characters and the places; stories within the story, much like fantasy does. Instead it was encompassed into one book and though the details lacking weren’t obvious, it was felt.

Is it well written? Certainly; how Vinge handles the different languages spoken by the characters by using grammar and syntax I thought was quite brilliant. And the world of Tiamat which is alternatively ruled by Summer (and nature) and Winter (and technology) is like no world I had read of before.

But what I struggled with most is that I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters. Our heroine, Moon Dawntreader Summer, seems perpetually stuck in adolescence and she is far too forgiving of Sparks, the great love of her life. And maybe this was part of Vinge’s intent, a way to convey exactly how alien a world it is, a world where ritual sacrifice still has a place.

As is the norm with SF (and fantasy), this is not a stand-alone book. There is a follow on “The Summer Queen”. I’m not sure we own a copy and my irritation with Moon (the summer queen herself) is still far too fresh for me to go hunting for a book that may not be on the shelf.

However, I am glad that I finished it and it is always a happy surprise to encounter a science fiction novel written by a woman. The world needs more of those.

* Science Fiction The Illustrated Encyclopedia by John Clute (1995)


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