The Hugo Project: 1981 – The Snow Queen

09 Jun

Previously on the Hugo ProjectUnderwhelming.

I’ve decided I’m just crazy enough to try to read every book that’s ever won the Hugo Award for Best Novel…and, of course, that I want to share this insane experience with all of you.  This week we journey through the Black Gate to visit the planet of Tiamat. Sixty-odd posts of science fiction, speculation and social justice continue!

The Snow Queen

Joan D. Vinge
published in 1980


The planet Tiamat’s unusual orbit is bringing it closer to the 100-year-long summer, and the end of the 150-year-long winter. At the time of this change, all offworlders will leave the planet, taking their technology with them, and the Snow Queen Arianrhod must give up her throne. The slaughter of the mer for their anti-agapic blood will cease and the Summer people will rule as the planet slides back into technological ignorance. But Arianrhod has a plan…a clone


Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!

My best friend has a very particular way of saying “interesting” when she’s not quite sure what to make of something. So I say unto you: innnnnnteresting.

I definitely did enjoy the book. It took me a while to get into it, but I really did like it. I’m looking forward to reading the sequels. It’s just…hard to codify my thoughts about it.

Part of the problem is that I really didn’t like Moon or Sparks much. I mean, I didn’t really dislike them…oh, hell. I can’t tell if I’m ambivalent or apathetic or what with those two. I just have issues with being told that I should accept that these two teenagers are each other’s One True Love (TM) on page one. YOU ARE TEENAGERS YOU ARE NOT READY FOR ONE TRUE LOVE CRAP DID YOU NOT READ ROMEO AND JULIET. And then there’s the fact that Moon and Sparks are first cousins (not by blood, it turns out, although they don’t learn this until late in the novel) and I have a major incest squick. And then most of what we see of Sparks shows him as childish and foolish and generally annoying…basically, the relationship hit all of my alarm bells and I have no idea what Moon saw in him, so it was difficult for me to accept her love for him as one of the major driving forces of the action of the novel.

I mean, the innocent-young-girl-fighting-to-retrieve-her-lost-love-from-the-winter-queen is straight out of Hans Christen Anderson’s The Snow Queen, on which the novel was based. But usually fairytale adaptations attempt to provide more emotional depth to the One True Love than this one managed to.

Which is not to say that the book is without emotional depth; there were a number of compelling moments, especially in the latter half of the book. I was reading this mostly while my students were taking exams…which meant a lot of trying to suppress my reactions so as not to make weird faces in front of the class. Anyway, even with the slow start and the One True Love nonsense, once Moon returned to Tiamat I was very invested in the characters and their interactions. (Although I still don’t care about Sparks.) The parts with Moon and BZ and Blodwedd in the cave were my favorite, and damn do I want a good miniseries of this novel. There’s a lot of potential, even where the emotions are told more than shown, andI think a good cast could bring a lot of depth to some of the flatter passages.

I do love the worldbuilding Vinge has done (which gets back to the I-want-a-miniseries thing – I wanna SEE it!) in imagining Tiamat and its unusual astronomical circumstances (and the consequences theerof). There’s clearly a lot more to the universe and the characters than what we got to see in the novel, which is a tad frustrating in places (mostly re: Tor/Polly) but hopefully the sequels will allow for more exploration of the various cultures and individuals Vinge has created.

Speaking of individuals…the ladies. Oh, the ladies. There are so many of them! And they are all so different! And they all feel like real people! They have strengths and flaws and personalities and worldviews and are generally amazing (even though I got frustrated with all of them at one point or another.) If nothing else, read this book for lots of interesting women interacting with each other (and also with aliens and robots and men).

That’s about it for tonight; we’ll see what the sequels bring. As always, the social issue review:

Race: Racism does not seem to be A Thing within the societies described in the books. Offworlders have dark skin; Tiamatans are invariably described as White. Interesting, given that the Hegemony/offworlders have technology and the Tiamatans do not; also interesting to have the White Summers in the role of “unsullied primatives” and the POC Hegemony as the corrupting imperialists. I’m curious to see how this dynamic will play out in future books. There is one awkward incident where Sparks essentially dons brownface to pass as an offworlder.

Gender/Sexuality: The Hegemony is patriarchal; both Summers and Winters on Tiamat seem to be equal societies if not slightly matriarchal (rule by Snow/Summer Queen). Everybody seems to be binary cishets. Lots of varied, kickass lady characters as described above, which is teh awesomesauce, and it’s interesting to note that the majority of the major characters (both the actors and the facilitators of action) are women. And this is why Myriad likes books written by ladies.

Other: Two disabled characters: one born blind, one paralyzed from the waist down due to events in the novel. I am very much Not Qualified to discuss representations of disabled people, but both characters are informed by their disability without being solely defined by it. Hegemony worlds seem to be polytheistic; Tiamat recognizes one female deity.

OVERALL RANKING: 8 out of 10 (rankings subject to change as my sample size increases).


Come back next week for some thoughts on however many of the following books I manage to get through by then!

1 Comment

Posted by on 9.6.2014 in Books


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