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Book Reviews by Jessica Korcok

The Snow Queen
Joan D. Vinge
448 pages

Retro-Review by Jessica Korcok


Imagine a feminist retelling of Frank Herbert's Dune, located on a land blanketed by water instead of sand. Such a description almost captures the atmosphere of Joan D. Vinge's stunning novel The Snow Queen. The author's gift for world-building provides immediate immersion into the compelling world of Tiamat.

Tiamat is a primitive world blessed by its position within the universe. Tiamat houses a coveted Starport that facilitates interstellar transport. Through this Starport, visitors from more advanced planets interact on Tiamat and even share technology with people called the Winters.

[Pundit's note: Tiamat, in Babylonian mythology, is the goddess of the Sea. ]

However, the technology transfer is never permanent because of the planet's political system. Tiamat is the home world of two competing civilizations, the simple Summers and the technocratic Winters. Peace is maintained through a cycle of alternating matriarchal reigns. The Winters control the planet for 150 years and then must relinquish control to the Summers. At the ascension of the new Summer queen, all new technology is destroyed, returning the planet to its previous, primitive state.

The novel opens near the end of the reign of the current Winter queen, Arienrhod. Fans of Hans Christian Anderson may recognize the author?s borrowing of his title, and Arienrhod is a fitting ice queen. A brilliant and manipulative politician who worships technology like a religion, Arienrhod does not want her reign to end.

The story's protagonist is Moon, a young member of the peaceful Summer tribe. Moon is a gifted and beautiful young woman living an idyllic rural existence. Moon discovers that she is actually the clone of Arienrhod, manipulated as part of the queen's plot to remain immortal. Through her increasing interactions with off-worlders, Moon is forced to confront the Luddite-like mysticism of her Summer people while also circumventing the political trappings of her creator and genetic sister.

Science fiction is an excellent venue for the exploration of contemporary social challenges. In The Snow Queen, genocide, technophobia and environmental preservation are all prominent themes. By changing the structure and nature of the world of the characters, this novel explores traditional power relationships. The political leader of Tiamat is a woman and the pattern of succession guarantees a line of female rulers.

The planet's major deity is also female. Moon and Arienrhod assume traditionally masculine positions while their joint love interest, Sparks, often fulfills the subservient position traditionally assigned to the damsel in distress. Moon assumes the traditional roles of a male protagonist: she engages in a quest, she battles evil, and she tries to save her lover through a series of adventures involving an impressive collection of supporting characters.

Read The Snow Queen. In the novel's first half, the reader is introduced to the character's motivations, effectively creating the motivation to read the second half in order to determine their fates.

Lyrical prose, complicated characters and exciting action all contribute to a thrilling read. Almost 30 years after its publication, this Hugo Award Winner has lost none of its luster. In fact, the exploration of mass murder for political expediency and environmental destruction for personal gain guarantee that this book with resonate with modern readers.

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