In which I discover Pamela Sargent, and a bookstore you should check out

18 07 2010

Well, Pamela Sargent’s Starshadows: Ten Stories was a little disappointing: bleak stories of doomed humanity, skirting daring statements and ideas, but never quite making them. It deals with all the important topics – the role of technology in society, social inequality and privilege, colonialism, crime, poverty, violence, extreme environmental degradation – but lacks the punch to truly make the ideas convincing. The blurbs on the back of the book and the introduction all speak of “potential,” so I’m assuming that Sargent developed considerably as an author after the publication of these stories. I have The Golden Space and a couple of Women of Wonder collections in the queue, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve made it through those.

Image of the cover of Pamela Sargent's Starshadows

“Clone Sister” presents an interesting family, but its understanding of cloning is all muddled. “Gather Blue Roses,” which tells of a hyperempathetic Jewish character whose mother survived the Nazi camps, shows a lot of possibility, but stops before it gathers any depth. “Oasis,” explores what another hyperempathetic character, driven to the brink by others’ pain, might do to escape his own suffering but is little more than shocking. And “If I ever should leave you” reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife (which was Dr. Who fanfiction y/n?) with a lot less romance novel and a lot more darkness.

“IMT” was a favourite of mine because (no, I don’t mind admitting it) I’m a bit of a transit geek. The idea, here, is that the city of New York has in hand the plans for a teleportation-based public transit system, the eponymous IMT, that would solve its transportation woes. City manager Lisa Fernandez isn’t ready to reveal and implement the plan yet, but Joe Taglia, the head of the transportation research group, forces her hand. This move, rather than resulting in the immediate implementation of city-wide commuter teleportation, ends up revealing Lisa’s real concerns with and ambitions for the IMT, which extend to the structure and daily movements of society as a whole. In a way, it’s suburbia taken to its logical extreme, but it’s a striking idea nonetheless.

In the title(ish) story, “Shadows,” aliens invade the earth to save its inhabitants, to bring them enlightenment and eternal life among the stars. The earthlings don’t understand, are horrified by the loss of their homes, by their relocation to domed huts, by the forced and seeming pointless labour that the aliens make them do, and conspire and rebel against their captors. The aliens lash out at the rebels, killing them for their disobedience, then mourn those who have died. It seems a fairly obvious metaphor for the furious colonialism of the so-called Age of Discovery and, intergalactic expansion and colonization being a common theme in science fiction, particularly apt. What makes this story particularly interesting is that the earthlings never do mount a successful rebellion, the focus-character almost willingly gives in to the aliens’ religion, and the author never explicitly condemns the aliens actions. She leaves this up to the reader to do.

View of fields, lake and hills from Mission Hill winery in the Okanagan Valley

It’s been a while since I’ve had an update. I was in heartstoppingly spectacular Kelowna for several days, and I’ve been busy with various commitments since. It’s difficult to blog, having fallen out of the groove. In Kelowna, I worked my way through Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles, Mystery and Mayhem. I’m always a little uncomfortable with Bujold’s work – there’s always something that doesn’t ring quite right – but her books are so addictive and fun. In Ethan of Athos, her manic hero, Miles Vorkosigan, doesn’t appear as anything more than a name dropped, which was pleasant because love and admire him though I may, Miles, with his boundless energy and his schemes, is exhausting, and I have no idea how anyone keeps up with him.

Readers in the Vancouver area should check out Booktown in New Westminster. It’s a huge used bookstore with a great SF collection, and it’s having a going out of business everything must go sale. Older SF titles range in price from as little as $1.95 to $7.95 and everything’s 50% off, so they’re going for pennies – you can really stock up. The selection is fantastic; I’ve filled some of the holes in my to-read list without even having to pay shipping charges. It’s a short walk from the Columbia SkyTrain station and there are a couple of coffee shops nearby in case, like, me, you can’t wait to get home to start reading your new books.

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