This trilogy isn’t quite your standard trilogy because it doesn’t follow the same main characters throughout. Although the focal character is in the next two, she moves to the background; and the same happens between the second and third books. I really like this as a tactic because it means Dyer gets to explore the world of Titan’s Forest in much more complexity than might otherwise be possible – the three characters have such different roles in the Forest societies, and different motivations and personalities and so on. They interact with other characters in utterly different ways. But I also like that the three characters are all connected to each other, so we get to see family dynamics at play, and understand people from multiple perspectives.
I also like that none of the three main characters are particularly likeable; certainly not all the time. Don’t get me wrong – they’re compelling characters, and I generally understand why they think they have to do what they’re doing. But I frequently got exasperated with them for being selfish, or narrow-minded, or blinded by anger, or… other reasons. And this is a good thing, because it really is a fine line to walk to make me have a reaction like that but still be enjoying the character and the story overall. Dyer walks that line beautifully.
If you haven’t read the series yet, stop right here and go and do so: you really want to if you like complex societies and gods who aren’t that great really and live among humans, and quandongs and Australian trees getting even bigger than we let them get here, quests and revenge and family drama. Spoilers ahead for the first two books!
I read and really enjoyed Crossroads of Canopy a while back, so when Thoraiya offered to send me a review copy of the sequel I was all YAASSSS GIMME. So yes, this is a review copy, and yes I know the author.
The world is Titan’s Forest, and there are classes within classes in this place. The population is divided in three: those who live in the Canopy, closest to the sunlight; those in the Understorey; and those on the Floor, who basically live in the dark. The first book was very focussed on the Canopy, even though a lot of it happened in the Understorey; this one is focussed on the Understorey, even though a lot of it happens in Canopy; I really hope that a) there’s a third book coming and b) it will give us more about Floor. But I said there are classes within classes: within each physical division, there are wealth divisions (I mean I assume this applies to Floor), too. This is one of the interesting things Dyer is doing: the books aren’t just about the lucky ones, easy as that would be, nor just about the lonely outsiders. Instead, it’s a mix, as life and society are, showing the uneasy ways in which people mingle across borders. In fact that’s the whole point of this second book: Imeris doesn’t feel like she fits either in Understorey or in Canopy, and the people around her are equally unsure. So she crosses between worlds, trying to find her place, as well as an existential threat to the societies more generally.
Imeris is a minor character in the first book, but the focus here; Unar, the protagonist of the first book, is significant but minor here. I like this a lot; it makes the society the overall focus, rather than just one character. It also means we get to see Unar as other people see her, which gives some of her actions in the first book different nuances. And honestly, much as I enjoyed Unar in general, Imeris is a generally easier character to read! She’s not quite as driven and proud and amoral… not that those things are inherently bad in a character, but I found Imeris more sympathetic in her desire to be normal, not heroic in the slightest. Unar’s ambition got… wearying… especially because of its toll on others.
At a macro level, Imeris is trying to deal with the problem of Kirrik, an issue left over from the end of the last book, basically as a way of getting everyone off her back so she can have a normal life. To do that she has to become an excellent warrior, even if she doesn’t especially want to. This leads to various clashes with people who don’t like or trust her, and she ends up being thrust into a difficult quest that’s not really something she wants to do. As so often happens. There’s setbacks and deaths and compromises and moments of happiness too. And there’s a lot about the the Canopian gods, too, who play a significant role in the organisation of Canopy, living as they do amongst their people. This book has some even more intriguing hints at what those gods have done to get their place in society, which is another reason why I’m reeaaallly hoping for a third book because I could not stand to be left not knowing what Dyer knows about those gods.
The book is beautifully written and deeply evocative of the natural environment. It made me happy every time I came across a plant that was clearly inspired by Australian flora – like tallowwood and quandong and floodgum.
I’m really happy these books exist.
In which we care about Hugo Awards, Aussie SFF awards, harassment at conventions and tea-brewing spaceships all at the same time. You can get us at iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.
WHAT DO WE CARE ABOUT THIS WEEK?
Tansy: The Teamaster & the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events S2, Runaways (TV)
Alisa: Annihilation; Planetfall, Emma Newman; 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson; Santa Clarita Diet S2; Rise
Alex: Echoes of Understorey, Thoraiya Dyer; Till We Have Faces and The Cosmic Trilogy, CS Lewis; The Craft Sequence, Max Gladstone
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This book was sent to me by the editor, at no cost.
I have loved the Infinity series so far. I like that the focus is on science fiction, that it’s often a focus on the engineering side of the future but that that doesn’t preclude fascinating characters and intriguing worlds. I am consistently impressed by the variety of worlds presented and the writing talent included.
The anthology opens with a series of stories focused on the solar system. Alastair Reynolds gives us a problem with the sun where the narrative jumps tantalisingly between now and later, while Pat Cadigan provides what might be a prequel story for her “The Girl-Thing who went out for Sushi” in a story set on Earth but focused on colonising near Jupiter. Stephen Baxter goes to Venus with a sweeping story about human hubris and the problem of families. Charlie Jane Anders totally mocks the whole idea of going to space in a hilarious story of being, like, an adolescent in space? Tobias S Buckell and Karen Lord also take the long view, temporally speaking, about what it might mean to undertake engineering projects within the asteroid belt and elsewhere, given the distances (and therefore time) involved. Plus Calypso.
Naturally, there are some stories in the anthology that confront climate change – it’s understandably becoming a go-to theme. Cadigan’s story references the issues in passing; stories by Pamela Sargent, and Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty, suggest possible ways of dealing with the problem – the latter is one of my favourites, being both optimistic and pessimistic, and largely set in the Arctic. Ken Liu writes over an extremely long period of time in posing the idea that the coming of the singularity might solve climate change in a rather radical manner. And Thoraiya Dyer posits a rather intriguing solution to the loss of island real estate while also dealing with the problems of family.
There are also several stories with extra-solar settings. Kristine Kathryn Rusch combines desert urban planning on alien planets with a devastating mystery to great effect; Robert Reed writes a Great Ship story about how the materials you use (and the tools) can impact on the thing you’re making. Allen M Steele’s story sounds like it might be from a pre-existing set of stories, like the Great Ship suite, in that it’s focused on a group of wanderers in what is effectively a Dyson sphere called Hex. It’s less focused on the engineering and more focused on human exploration of alien tech.
A few stories didn’t especially work for me. Karin Lowachee’s story of a contractor alone on a supply depot installation didn’t have enough character development for me to get my teeth into, while Gregory Benford and Larry Niven made my teeth ache with their extra-heavy serves of techno speak and missing out on character or plot. An Owomoyela’s narrative didn’t quite seem to go anywhere… which given the narrative itself is kind of funny, but it still didn’t work for me.
Highly recommending this anthology for lovers of science fiction.
In which we consume culture and take names! get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
WHAT’S NEW ON THE INTERNET?
Tansy’s novel Musketeer Space is half price this week on Kindle (and in other ebook stores)! Price goes back to normal on Wednesday.
Alisa: Vaginal Fantasy; Crosstalk, Connie Willis
Tansy: Superior, Jessica Lack; Fangirl Happy Hour on Ghostbusters: Eps 49, 50 & 52
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
This book was sent to me by the author at no cost. She’s a friend: I have blown detergent bubbles with her Small One at Ditmar awards ceremonies and watched them burst on someone’s expensive suit. So it’s a very good thing that I really enjoyed this, because it would just have been awkward otherwise.
This is her debut novel, and it’s coming from Tor in January 2017 (the hardcover will be USD$25.99, which will be who knows how much in actual AUD by that stage).
So yes, I enjoyed it. I would absolutely have enjoyed it without any knowledge of the author, too, so I have no hesitation in recommending it. The characters are compelling, the world is fascinating, the narrative moves at a good clip while leaving breathing space for characterisation, important issues are touched on. I don’t know what else you might want… I mean, there’s no dragons or unicorns, but you can’t have everything… .
This is a forest world (… what we know of it…) where the trees must be many hundreds of metres high. Our protagonist, Unar, is born to Canopy – the most privileged section of the forest, being the closest to the sun. She is not born to the most privileged group there, but she gets herself into the service of a goddess and life improves. Plus, there’s slaves to reassure her that there are always people worse off than yourself. Of course, things do not go as swimmingly as Unar would hope, and she is forced to learn new things – do new things – and meet new people in order to survive. It’s a self-discovery narrative, in that the focus is the reader learning through Unar as she learns about herself and her society.
In Canopy, there are thirteen gods and goddesses, who are served in different niches and who die and then reincarnate and who enable magic in their acolytes. In Canopy, they fear those of the Understorey. In Canopy, there are very definitely still haves and have-nots.
There’s a lot of interesting things going on here, especially in the world-building. There are people living at different points on the trees, and basically location connects to class/privilege in a really physical way where you can see the in-world logic: closer to the sun makes you better than everyone else, naturally. Dyer, of course, sets this up to be questioned and undercut as Unar progresses through her story and learns more of life and her world. There’s little historical background about how this society became so (literally) stratified – just some teasers – so I’m looking forward to seeing that develop. But/And it’s not all as simple as it might appear…
Throughout, Dyer sets up delightfully complex relationships: parent and child, siblings, friends, acquaintances, enemies-who-work-together, lovers (straight and queer), slave and owner. Very few of them exist or progress in expected patterns, with betrayals likely, loyalty in unexpected places, and the odd bit of casual cruelty that makes the humanity ring just that bit more true. Sometimes people have a reason to be angry, and sometimes they Just Are – also adding to their humanity; sometimes people fall in love with completely unexpected people; sometimes bad things happen for no reason.
Something else that I loved and that really struck me in reading the description of the rainforest is the Australian nature of it. Non-Aussies will probably suspect that Dyer is just making up names of all the trees (some of them she has, I think). But blue quandongs are real, as are bloodwoods, as are ironbarks and tallowwood. Some of the nasty critters suggest that she’s taken a good long look at goannas and other monitors. I fully expect a demented cassowary to feature in some future book, and Dyer will barely have to change them at all to make them amongst the most terrifying creatures ever.
This is the start of a series, which is great because I look forward to seeing where Unar goes. But, happily, it also stands all by itself – so if publishing falls over in February (may that not be so) we won’t be stuck wondering about really serious issues. Of course, Dyer COULD pull a Carmody/Obernewtyn on us, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t do that to us. PRETTY sure.
I have two slight gripes: I don’t love the title – I don’t hate it, but I don’t feel it’s the most explanatory or gripping. There’s also a point towards the end that I felt was too rushed, where Unar very quickly grasped something that was not at all obvious to me, so it felt too hurried. But those are pretty minor quibbles.
Get this book when you can. You really want to.
I totally intended to read this slowly. Honestly I did. I meant to savour it, and contemplate each story.
Is it my fault that I ripped through each story, eager to know where it was going? It is my fault that each story is short enough that before I knew it I had finished one, turned the page, and started another?
I think not.
In the interests of, etc, I should point that I do know both Thoraiya Dyer, the author, and Alisa Krasnostein, the publisher. If I didn’t like what I had read, I just wouldn’t write anything… 😉
So. Asymmetry. In each story, a lack of balance, especially in power; sometimes, also, a lack of balance in an individual’s life, making them particularly vulnerable to direct manipulation or simply life’s vicissitudes.
The first story is “After Hours,” and I’m so pleased to finally read something of Dyer’s that makes use of her veterinary skills! I’ve been wondering when they would find an outlet in her fiction. Didn’t necessarily expect to find it in a story about werewolves, but that’s fine. I do wonder whether there’s a little hint of Dyer’s own experiences here, or those of friends, with how one of the senior, rather unpleasant, men treats one of the women – commenting that women aren’t worth training because they just up and leave to have babies. Anyway, Jess is a new vet in a rural town, where the clinic’s biggest client is the local RAAF base with its patrol dogs. Werewolves are involved, but I won’t spoil how. The asymmetric power dynamic comes in its experience/newbie aspect, as well as in its gender aspect. Dyer hints at the difficulties of being new to a job as well as being new to a small town – actually I’m just presuming it’s a small town, but that’s definitely the vibe I got – very effectively. You probably don’t want to read this if you’re going to be squeamish about matter-of-fact descriptions of veterinary procedures.
In “Zadie, Scythe of the West,” Dyer wrenches us out of a relatively familiar world into one where only women are soldiers, and they’re only allowed to kill as many enemies as children they have borne. The tiny detail in this story that delighted me was the rather obvious point that, as a consequence of this prohibition, the women have developed great skills at harming rather than killing. The asymmetric power here is once again a gendered one, as women have power because of their martial position, and presumably also because of the worship of a goddess who orders society and doles out punishment as necessary. The focus is on someone with a skerrick of power – an artist – whose expertise gets abused by someone with more power, for her own ends. The world of this story totally fascinated me, because there is so little back story: why the fighting? is this a fantasy or a SF world? And the story, in skipping to vignettes within the artist’s and Zadie’s life, suggest interesting ways for men and women, state and individual, to relate.
Having interviewed Dyer before I read this, I already know that she’s working on a longer treatment of the world she depicts in “Wish me Luck,” which is intriguing all by itself. Here, somehow, luck is a form of currency: it can be transferred between individuals, and used to purchase goods. As with the previous story, it’s unclear whether this is more of a fantasy or SF conceptualisation, although the ending suggests SF – as does, now I think about it, the fact that Kvivik is expressly discussed as another planet, and our narrator has come from Earth. Still, the luck aspect suggests a blurring of genres. Anyway! Our narrator begins sympathetically enough, but it must be said that much of my sympathy had transmuted to distaste by the end of the story. He’s one of those unpleasant people who keeps making promises… for tomorrow. But the world – oh, the world. Kvivik is a water world, with a human colony that appears to exist solely to supply water to its waterless sister-planet. Why these planets are worth the effort is unclear, and will perhaps be revealed by Dyer in her longer work. The story is mostly set amongst the dregs of society on Kvivik, which of course is where most of the best stories are found, and there are some distinctly unpleasant people there – and robots, and possibly half-humans, and a thoroughly mysterious Lady Adelaide. The asymmetry is found in the haves vs the have-nots, and in intention vs action. I think this is probably my favourite story of the quartet.
Finally, “Seven Days in Paris” gives the cover its Eiffel Tower. We’re back on Earth, some time – but not too far? – into the future. The story comes from the perspective of Marwa B, who first appears to the reader while looking at someone identified as Marwa. Marwa B is taken out into Paris, to have experiences which her captors/handlers/users hope will stimulate dreams that in turn will help them to understand the original Marwa. Exactly who or what Marwa B is, or how her operators use her, is left opaque – what matters is that they do, and they believe it’s necessary to do so. The asymmetry is a riff, I think, on that philosophic conundrum of whether it is permissible to torture one to save many. There’s also a huge knowledge imbalance, with Marwa B having no real understanding of what she is being used for until right at the end; and of course it’s a state vs individual thing, too. I enjoyed the development of Marwa B over her seven days – she’s not an entirely clean slate, but she still gets to experience things relatively innocently – and Paris is a sensation-filled place to do that. I also really appreciated the point at which Dyer left this story.
This is an entirely worthy eighth volume in the Twelve Planets series. It’s different from the others (that I have read… still haven’t brought myself to read the Warren or the Lanagan…), as it should be, but fits in with the overall scope of the project – quality writing from Australian women. You can buy it from Twelfth Planet Press.
This review brought to you as part of the Australian Women’s Writing Challenge 2013.
Thoraiya Dyer is an award-winning Australian writer based in the lush, sweeping NSW Hunter Valley. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld #75, Apex #35, Redstone SF and Nature; it is forthcoming in Cosmos #51 (full list). Her collection, Asymmetry, is out now from Twelfth Planet Press.