I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The imperious Winter colonists have ruled the planet Tiamat for 150 years, deriving wealth from the slaughter of the sea mers. But soon the galactic stargate will close, isolating Tiamat, and the 150-year reign of the Summer primitives will begin. All is not lost if Arienrhod, the ageless, corrupt Snow Queen, can destroy destiny with an act of genocide. Arienrhod is not without competition as Moon, a young Summer-tribe sibyl, and the nemesis of the Snow Queen, battles to break a conspiracy that spans space.
This book is a modern re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale. Moon and Sparks are equivalent to Anderson’s Gerda and Kai, who grow up together and are devoted to each other. In the original tale, Kai is infected with a tiny piece of an evil troll mirror, which causes him to see only the bad and ugly in people. In Vinge’s version, Sparks gets left behind when Moon is chosen away to become a sibyl and he flounces off to the city of the Snow Queen to try his luck at becoming someone of importance. Just like Kai in Anderson’s tale, Sparks becomes a cruel and violent man. Gerda and Moon are each launched on a quest, to find their beloved friend/cousin and to save him from the Snow Queen to rejoin his people and his world. Both have transformative adventures and make interesting allies along the way.
There are so many parallels between the two stories that it would be boring in the extreme to list them all—but this is one of Anderson’s tales that I was less familiar with and I enjoyed comparing them. Both versions are populated by many female characters—indeed, it is women who are the prime movers, although they are supported or motivated by their love of the men in their lives.
I also couldn’t help seeing many parallels between Vinge’s Snow Queen and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Both take place on low-technology planets in large galactic empires and produce substances that extend human life span substantially, the waters of life or geriatric spice respectively. Each has a fabulous and misunderstood creature that is responsible for these substances, mers in the SQ and worms in Dune. Each has a mysterious “religious” class—sibyls (who can be either sex) in SQ and the Bene Gesserit (exclusively female) in Dune.
I also find it interesting that so many science fiction and fantasy writers deal with the issue of human life extension/immortality, since I certainly don’t aspire to live a particularly long time. For one thing, my finances would not allow it—one must be an aristocrat, a criminal, or an aristocratic criminal to have the funds for this kind of life plan! And one must be sure that the body & mind are going to cooperate before signing on for too many extra decades—but these fictional characters are never confined to nursing homes or assisted living! My mother used to be horrified by the prospect of losing her wits to dementia of some sort and I am watching elderly friends and relatives deteriorate as they progress through their 80s. It definitely gives me motivation to live a healthier life in the here and now, to try to improve my own old age. I guess that is the dream—to have a substance that doesn’t just prolong life, but prolongs youth and ability.
Eventually, I will have to read the next book in the series, The Summer Queen. I was sorry to read that Joan D. Vinge suffered minor brain damage in a car accident in 2002, leaving her unable to write. The good news is that by 2007 that she has recovered enough to resume writing. I will look forward to reading more by this author.