Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462
In many ways, Bone Dance continues the cyberpunk legacy by exploring the psychological condition of a post-holocaust survivor through a hard-bitten and intelligent use of interior monologue and a series of trying moral dilemmas. Bull extends this paradigm beyond the exploration of technology and evil corporations, so prevalent in cyberpunk narratives and concentrates more fully on developing her central character. Sparrow is a sharp, cynical loner who has little use for anyone outside of her business transactions. Bone Dance convincingly follows her growth toward a complex understanding of herself as a human being.
Sparrow is never completely cold and bitter, and her love of pre-holocaust relics is more than commercial. She has a sense of time and history, and of how things could have been better in the city. In short, she has ideals about the possibilities of life and human interaction that her environment does not allow her to explore. As Bull makes clear, Sparrow has an affinity with these relics because she herself is a relic, a manufactured object that was “born” a teenager with a yearning for connection.
Sparrow also shares a deep sense of kinship with the Horsemen, another manufactured form looking for a sense of permanence and stability. Guilty over their destruction of the world, Frances and Skinner take it upon themselves to eliminate all Horsemen in a belated gesture of goodwill and in a belief that they cannot live with their crime. If Sparrow has no past, then Frances has no present, given that she moves between bodies at will. Bull brings these characters together and convincingly develops a relationship reliant on compassion and responsibility. In this way, Bull lifts Bone Dance out of a trendy nihilism and into a touching drama.
As its informal subtitle ironically suggests, Bone Dance is a “fantasy for technophiles,” and it successfully combines familiar science-fictional themes and settings with a complementary exploration of the supernatural and the spiritual. Sparrow’s reliance on her tarot reader for guidance and the use of the spirit world in the final clash between the Horsemen serve to shift the focus from the technological to the human. Bone Dance is an exploration of the friendship between Sparrow and Frances and the ways in which their relationship represents a way out of the decay and corruption of the city. Hoodoo, tarot readings, and mystical incantations come to stand as the antitheses of the technological, and it is in these that Bull celebrates the nurturing possibilities of community.
Bone Dance combines a futuristic detective yarn with a coming-of-age story by exploiting the best features of both genres. At the same time tough and compassionate, the novel works precisely through its convincing characterization rather than its sensationalism, thus widening the parameters of science fiction and fantasy in general.
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