On the face of it, this is a story about a man and a robot, the latter trying to kill the former, on a desert planet. At the start I thought it was going to be one of those novels that would have worked better as a short story – even at only 142 pages, I wasn’t sure the whole being-chased thing was going to have legs (ha, ha). That was before the man, Trace, started having flashbacks… and everything changed. The flashbacks filled in his own back story and that of the robot, giving a much larger context than I had anticipated. Interestingly, Wilhelm also gives the robot its own flashbacks, which disrupts the readers’ instinct to identify solely with the human protagonist. This is a brilliantly written piece : sparse details, appropriate to the subject matter, with Wilhelm deftly conveying the increasingly feverish experiences of Trace frighteningly well. She also does a fascinating thing in creating layers throughout the book: Trace revisits several key moments several times, and each time some new nuance is revealed to the reader, eventually building up to a full understanding of just what is going on.
The emphasis throughout the book is on the robot as a ‘logic box’ – its portrayal throughout is quite a different one from those found more recently, I think. The narrative only skirts around the issue of whether the robot is sentient, and what might be done if it is. Rather than dealing with this — and this is a slight SPOILER — Wilhelm is more interested in slowly, subtly, and cunningly making the reader aware of the fact that, being the well-trained soldier that he is, Trace himself can more than adequately be described as nothing more than a logic box. When I finally realised what Wilhelm was doing there, I both couldn’t believe I hadn’t picked up on it sooner and was terribly impressed with how skilfully she’d pulled it together.
The other really fascinating thing going on in this novel is its discussion of colonisation and the attitudes that colonisers bring to new places. In this case, it’s on a galactic scale, but the attitudes and issues and words and problems are all completely identifiable from the last century or two right here – and I do mean here, in Australia, as well as in the wider world. Some of the words she puts into the colonised’s mouths are uncomfortably familiar, which I’m sure is the point, and impressed me given the time at which it was written; I hadn’t thought those sorts of things were being articulated in the 1960s.
I had initially worried that the book would glorify war and the military, and it seems to indicate such a stance in the first few pages. However, by the end the book it’s clear that Wilhelm is indicting both war and the apparatus that supports militaristic attitudes, and when I realised that it was written in 1967 – well, it seems clear to me that this is an anti-war, anti-Vietnam piece. Perhaps that accounts for its lack of awards; I find it hard to believe it didn’t get any. This is a really, really, really good book.
This is my 1000th post! And it’s a Galactic Suburbia one!
In which we greet a brand new year with discussion about digital media, awards, books, feminism, feedback, more books, anti-heroes, gender roles and take a look at what to look forward to in 2011. We can be downloaded or streamed from Galactic Suburbia, or from iTunes.
Follow up on the Jewish fantasy discussion by Rachel Swirsky.
Locus to go digital with issue #600.
Launch of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, new critical zine with focus on women’s work.
The i09 Power List: 20 people who rocked SF & Fantasy in 2010.
Carl Brandon Awards: Hiromi Goto and Justine Larbalestier.
Hugo nominations open – last year’s members of Aussiecon 4, don’t forget you’re eligible to nominate!
Feedback: Kaia, Kathryn & Thoraiya
What Culture Have we Consumed? [AND what culture are you most looking forward to consuming in 2011?]
Alisa: Fringe Season 3, Dexter Season 4, Being Erica (ep 1), Nurse Jackie, How I Met Your Mother, reading Managing Death (Trent Jamieson)
Looking forward to: LSS 2011
Alex: Zombies vs Unicorns, ed. Larbalestier and Black; Factotum, book 3 of Monster Blood Tattoo, by DM Cornish; Dervish House, by Ian McDonald; The Killing Thing, by Kate Wilhelm; Surface Detail, by Iain M Banks.
Looking forward to: Blue Remembered Earth (probably), by Alastair Reynolds; books 2&3 of The Creature Court, Tansy Rayner Roberts; the 2011 Women in SF Book Club; Bold as Love sequence (Gwyneth Jones); Twelve Planets (from Twelfth Planet Press).
Tansy: Wiped, Richard Molesworth; The Doctor Who Christmas Special! The Gene Thieves & the Norma; Ascendant, Diana Peterfreund; Big Finish Podcast
Looking forward to: Doctor Who and Fringe (SHOCK, I know), Sherlock, Torchwood, The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan, Burn Bright by M. de Pierres.
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!