For women’s studies majors and hardcore fans of old-school science fiction, and probably nobody else.

NATIVE TONGUE

A feminist classic revived.

This book was published in 1984, a year before The Handmaid’s Tale. The two share several similarities. Both take place in a not-too-distant future in which governments use Christianity as the rationale for stripping women of basic rights. Human reproduction is regulated by men. And women work together both to make their own lives bearable within this system and to create a better world for their daughters. Elgin (Peacetalk 101, 2002, etc.), who died in 2015, was a linguist as well as a science-fiction author, and the conceit at the heart of her dystopian narrative is brilliant: When humans make contact with aliens, people who understand how languages work will become an invaluable resource for connecting with other sentient species. Linguists become a sort of aristocracy, both necessary for interstellar trade and reviled for their elitism. While it’s true that the men of the linguist families enjoy some power and authority, the women of their houses are valued solely for their ability to work as translators and their capacity to produce children who will work as translators. Once they are infertile, they retire to the Barren House. The central household in this novel is the Chornyak family, and what the men don’t know is that the women in their Barren House have been creating a secret language, a language that will allow women to communicate with each other, a language that will let them express experiences for which they have found no word in any language that they’ve learned. The worldbuilding here is intriguing. The concept of women freeing themselves from patriarchy by developing their own language is awesome. The execution, though….This is a novel about language, but the characters all sound the same—and there are so many characters that it’s hard to keep them straight. Not only do they sound the same, they also sound quite distinctly like characters in vintage genre fiction. Who imagines a future that includes words like “honcho” and “damnfool” and “loobyloo,” let alone swears such as “Sweet jesus christ on a donkey in the shade of a lilac tree”?

For women’s studies majors and hardcore fans of old-school science fiction, and probably nobody else.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-936932-62-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

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THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE

After 1,000 years of peace, whispers that “the Nameless One will return” ignite the spark that sets the world order aflame.

No, the Nameless One is not a new nickname for Voldemort. Here, evil takes the shape of fire-breathing dragons—beasts that feed off chaos and imbalance—set on destroying humankind. The leader of these creatures, the Nameless One, has been trapped in the Abyss for ages after having been severely wounded by the sword Ascalon wielded by Galian Berethnet. These events brought about the current order: Virtudom, the kingdom set up by Berethnet, is a pious society that considers all dragons evil. In the East, dragons are worshiped as gods—but not the fire-breathing type. These dragons channel the power of water and are said to be born of stars. They forge a connection with humans by taking riders. In the South, an entirely different way of thinking exists. There, a society of female mages called the Priory worships the Mother. They don’t believe that the Berethnet line, continued by generations of queens, is the sacred key to keeping the Nameless One at bay. This means he could return—and soon. “Do you not see? It is a cycle.” The one thing uniting all corners of the world is fear. Representatives of each belief system—Queen Sabran the Ninth of Virtudom, hopeful dragon rider Tané of the East, and Ead Duryan, mage of the Priory from the South—are linked by the common goal of keeping the Nameless One trapped at any cost. This world of female warriors and leaders feels natural, and while there is a “chosen one” aspect to the tale, it’s far from the main point. Shannon’s depth of imagination and worldbuilding are impressive, as this 800-pager is filled not only with legend, but also with satisfying twists that turn legend on its head. Shannon isn’t new to this game of complex storytelling. Her Bone Season novels (The Song Rising, 2017, etc.) navigate a multilayered society of clairvoyants. Here, Shannon chooses a more traditional view of magic, where light fights against dark, earth against sky, and fire against water. Through these classic pairings, an entirely fresh and addicting tale is born. Shannon may favor detailed explication over keeping a steady pace, but the epic converging of plotlines at the end is enough to forgive.

A celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes. More of these dragons, please.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-029-8

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever...

SNOW CRASH

After terminally cute campus high-jinks (The Big U) and a smug but attention-grabbing eco-thriller (Zodiac), Stephenson leaps into near-future Gibsonian cyberpunk—with predictably mixed results.

The familiar-sounding backdrop: The US government has been sold off; businesses are divided up into autonomous franchises ("franchulates") visited by kids from the heavily protected independent "Burbclaves"; a computer-generated "metaverse" is populated by hackers and roving commercials. Hiro Protagonist, freelance computer hacker, world's greatest swordsman, and stringer for the privatized CIA, delivers pizzas for the Mafia—until his mentor Da5id is blasted by Snow Crash, a curious new drug capable of crashing both computers and hackers. Hiro joins forces with freelance skateboard courier Y.T. to investigate. It emerges that Snow Crash is both a drug and a virus: it destroyed ancient Sumeria by randomizing their language to create Babel; its modern victims speak in tongues, lose their critical faculties, and are easily brainwashed. Eventually the usual conspiracy to take over the world emerges; it's led by media mogul L. Bob Rife, the Rev. Wayne's Pearly Gates religious franchulate, and vengeful nuclear terrorist Raven. The cultural-linguistic material has intrinsic interest, but its connections with cyberpunk and computer-reality seem more than a little forced.

The flashy, snappy delivery fails to compensate for the uninhabited blandness of the characters. And despite the many clever embellishments, none of the above is as original as Stephenson seems to think. An entertaining entry that would have benefitted from a more rigorous attention to the basics.

Pub Date: May 15, 1992

ISBN: 0553380958

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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