Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Dazzle of Day - Molly Gloss

Jo Walton reread The Dazzle of Day over on Tor.com. She titled the post "Quakers in Space" which is a really good one line description. It is set on a generational starship, but the folks on the ship aren't the ones who built it - they're one of the few groups who actually had the guts to abandon Earth. So while they have all sorts of high tech gear, they're a very low tech society. Obviously there are folks who have to maintain the ship, and learn how to repair the sails as they arrive at their destination so that the ship can slow down properly, but mostly they are farmers and artisans. And the society is very egalitarian with all decisions being made at Meetings (which obviously makes things difficult because you have to have a large group of people coming to an agreement about things - difficult things - deciding to change the world by actually landing on the planet their ancestors set out for instead of staying in their nice safe (but gradually decaying) ship). So it is entirely different in flavour from any other generational starship story I've ever read. Which is awesome. And yet...like Jo says in her post, her 11-year old self would have hated this book, and maybe I'm not really old enough to enjoy it yet. It was almost too real for me. There was a lot of death and disability - in fact a very realistic amount of death and disability - but it was of the sort that in your standard sci-fi story wouldn't have happened - people would have been saved at the very last minute. Instead, the dramatic rescue attempts don't necessarily succeed, or don't succeed fully, and we get to explore the effect of that on the survivors - who are very human. Which is interesting, and it was a very compelling read, but a bit depressing on the whole - and yet not, because people do survive and go on to create lives, happy lives, for themselves and their descendants on this new planet.

The one thing I really enjoyed was the family and social structure. Marriage is very much a thing, but people don't get married and move into their own houses, you continue living with family - but exactly which family (or friends) you live with depends a lot more on personalities than on precedent. People regularly move around if they stop getting along with the folks they are living with and have a better option. Also, children when they reach age 12 are expected to move elsewhere for their 'green years' in order to experience different family environments. Generally moving in with aunts & uncles or other relatives. Each individual dwelling is part of a larger community, so that sleeping, cooking and eating would be done with your family group, but communal spaces are available for working and bathing. Within a very constrained society this seems (to me) to allow a large degree of personal freedom. If you aren't happy, you can leave - you aren't going very far, but far enough.

So I think I really enjoyed it, but I think I might like it better in 20 years. Definitely worth reading especially as it is quite short.

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