Hugo: The Snow Queen (1981)

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
Read January 9, 2010 – January 25, 2010

Premise: Tiamat is a planet whose main export is an eternal youth/life preserver known as “The Water of Life” which is extracted from the blood of indigenous sea creatures. The planet experiences hundred-year-cycles of winter and summer with two peoples and cultures that correspond to each season—the Queen changing at each seasonal change to a woman of the coming season’s people. Where is the story, you say? The Winter Queen is 150-years-old, looks 19, is pretty much crazy, and clones herself in an attempt to stay on the throne forever. We follow the clone, named Moon, as she ends up inadvertently cavorting all over the galaxy and learning about her true purpose. This world is way too complex to properly encapsulate here and I’ve had to leave out way too much including technology, religion, disease, interstellar politics… I could go on. Apologies—if I were more specific this would become unreadably long.

Verdict: I found this book sort of by accident three years ago in the library. It said science fiction, I picked it up, I read the first chapter, I said “What the hell, this isn’t science fiction!” I was thoroughly annoyed with the immature characters and fantasy-esque setting. I gave it back to the library. This time, I caught the subtleties that Vinge was baiting me with and I kept reading, intrigued. Guess what! The characters grow up, all of them are complex and deeply troubled intense personalities, the universe is masterfully crafted, and the plot is compelling. Gentlemen, this is indeed science fiction! And very awesome science fiction at that. This, friend-Herbert, is how emotions are truly experienced—the same by both genders. Thanks. While the love lives of everybody are central and essential to the plot, I never felt that this in any way weakened or degraded any of them, even the ones who were degraded by the world’s society. The structure, the tension, and the actual details of this novel kept me yearning to finish it when I had to run off and read stuff for class. While the main character is just a bit too good (think Harry Potter level of self-righteous goodness), every other character makes up for it by being a conflicted mess of good and evil, justice and injustice, love and hatred. Another really neat feature is a sort of universal-internet which you access through human terminals called “Sybils.” Very nifty. This is a great book!

This was a surprisingly complex and intense novel that was a true treat to read. If you can find it, I recommend it.

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