The world and universe being constructed here are interesting. We have clones, an immortality drug, a computer accessible directly by humans who possess the correct gene sequences, faster than light travel, and a galactic empire that fell a thousand years ago taking a lot of secrets with it. But we also have planetary monocultures, a variety of societal attitudes that are clearly from the 1970s and a pace that’s a little on the slow side with the various character lines taking too long to come together for me.
The minor characters are actually more fun than the majors. Particularly Tor (and her robot sidekick Pollux) and Jerusha. Actually, Jerusha is almost a major character, and noting her among my likes is going to make the beginning of the next paragraph a bit odd.
Her circumstances as police chief are a bit disappointing. Not so much her character (because she’s well written and strong), but the characters around her. I think, in 1981, it was a much bigger deal that she was a woman trying to manage in a “man’s job”, coming from a culture that’s inherently sexist. Thirty-six years on, this rings a little hollow, at least so far as western culture goes (note that I’m not saying true equality has been achieved, but it looks a lot closer than it did when this book was written, at least in most parts of the developed world).
The story borrows heavily from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, and there’s definitely a fairy tale feel at times, but there are also lots of similarities to Star Wars: parental issues, collapsed former galactic power, “the force”, hero’s journey, clones, societal control.
There’s a nice twist regarding the mers, which I won’t spoil, but the idea seems a little Dune-like for a while, the harvesting of a supposedly native species for something that basically grants immortality to humans (Water of Life = Spice). Like other things in the book, this feels like Ms. Vinge taking something we might already be familiar with and making it her own.
Overall rating: 3 stars, leaning towards 3.5. I did enjoy the book, but it’s tough, sometimes, reading something so modern and yet so not, which a lot of the now-older Hugo and Nebula winners are.
There are times when I want to give certain things a pass because of when a book was written, but I find it harder and harder to do so because I’m not reading it when it was written but with a gap of years or decades when culture and attitudes have changed. To me, in some ways, this book is railing against a sexism that has shifted considerably, and so the idea that a woman can’t be a police chief (for example) raises an eyebrow now, even if it is still going to be a much tougher slog for her than it would be for an equally qualified man. Still a long way to go, if maybe not quite as long as in 1981. And yet, I recognize that my view is probably narrower than I perceive it to be of how the world really is.
The Snow Queen is a well told, if a little slow-paced, story, but I’m at a point where I have to look at it through an historical lens.by