Saturday, August 13, 2005

A worm in the hand is worth two in the crevice: Meredith Sue Willis, The City Built of Starships (Montemayer, NJ: Montmayor Press, 2004).

On a barren world colonists struggle to survive. Their crops don't grow, Terran protein is rare (goats and puppies) and native protein fills but kills with malnutrition and "morbid flatulence". The city of Starships is the main colony and is ruled by a tyrant who had once been a liberator, a "hand" who over threw the office class only to despair at the problem of feeding everyone and to slide back into feudalism.

Into this is sent Espera, daughter of Soledad the desert hermit and Leon of the Ghouls or desert people. Leon sends Espera on a mission to take a yeager (a flying beast) to the man called Salt.

In the denoument to the novel Espera discovers that she was a weapon, the city collapses and the hands look to Soldedad and her knowledge of how to convert second earth protein into something they can digest (the trick is to heat it with glow worms in a broth of first earth protein, it's a scientific, not a magical fix). Rejected is the ultra purist/meditation route of Leon and his culture. Embraced is the knowledge that the glow worms are the infant form of the yeager.

The novel stands out because it's a story of a failed colonisation that ends with only a sliver of hope. There are no magic fixes, no lost technologies (although we do have the usual trope of lost knowledge in the generation ship, this time it is because people succumbed to drugs--this sounds unlikely for a whole culture). It's weakness is its tone which is just too dreamy for my tastes. Much happens, but very little is done.


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