Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Snow Queen - Joan D. Vinge


About the book

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.

448 pages (paperback)
Published: 1980
Author’s webpage

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Wow, my first review in a week. I’m really impressed with how lazy I’ve become.

The Snow Queen is a book that has been recommended to me by several other book reviewers. It took me a while to find it, as it’s currently out of print. If my research is correct (which it isn’t always), the author wasn’t writing for a while due to a car accident she suffered several years ago. I’m not sure if that’s why many of her books are currently out of print, or if there are other reasons. She is now recovered enough and started writing again in 2007.

In 1981 Vinge won the Hugo award for The Snow Queen. Vinge’s writing is top notch, often seeming poetic with her descriptions. Her world is beautifully crafted, as well as the social systems within it. Every detail is thought out and described, almost overly so. The thought Vinge gave to the background of her societies, and the histories that affect their current traditions and ways of life are nothing short of fascinating. Furthermore, the science fiction elements of the book are almost perfectly balanced with certain, almost primitive cultures and influences. It’s quite well done, and absolutely breathtaking with the scope and depth of the world building.

However, that being said, The Snow Queen took quite a while to grab me. The cultures and world, while masterfully done, do take quite a bit of time to understand and make sense of. Furthermore, I often felt as though the plot was trying to get somewhere, but never quite making any real progress in that direction. These two things mixed together ensured that much of my experience with The Snow Queen was wrapped in a level of frustration that never quite went away. If the reader pushes through these slow parts of the book, they may feel as though it was worth it in the end.

Vinge doesn’t create any one-dimensional characters, which is in the book’s favor. While some are more frustrating than others, she takes her time to craft characters that fit her world and cultures. However, perhaps where some of the characters grate on my nerves is the angst that seems to fill the book. Furthermore, The Snow Queen seems to be an almost feminist book for Vinge. It’s refreshing to read about strong female protagonists in a science fiction book, though some of her concepts seem to be a bit outdated, like the female police officer who spends an obscene amount of time lamenting about how her job is a man’s job.

The Snow Queen is an interesting read in the fact that it truly is a solid work of science fiction with some truly incredible world building, but the almost agonizingly slowly moving plot and some frustrating character choices really do affect the work as a whole. The Snow Queen isn’t a quick read, it took real effort and determination for me to read and puzzle my way through it, and it wasn’t until almost the end that I actually decided I cared about anything that was happening. While others may have a different experience with this work, it should be noted that this book might require the reader to struggle a bit before they feel fully involved with it.

Despite the flaws of the work, I did find myself amazingly interested in the background of the world and the cultures Vinge created. On the whole, I found myself more interested in the background than in the plot itself. The book ended with me wishing that Vinge had spent more time with the background and other side cultures than the individuals that took up the main stage of the work.

It should be noted that this book is very highly rated, and it seems like most people who read it absolutely love it, so my perspective seems to be a minority one. While The Snow Queen was an enjoyable book, I didn’t find the effort it took for me to actually finish it really worth it. The incredible world and wonderful prose are perfectly balanced by frustrating characters, some outdated feminist themes, and an agonizingly slow buildup. While this is a solid science fiction work, I wouldn’t, by any means, classify it as groundbreaking.

3/5 stars

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