Joan (Carol) D(ennison) Vinge

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Richard Lubbock

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Science, religion, magic, moral philosophy, anthropology, and indeed almost all the arts and sciences intermingle most deliciously in Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen….

The author describes herself as "an anthropologist of the future," by which she means alternate universes, and her work certainly contains strong echoes of Margaret Mead, Sir James Fraser and innumerable other strains of scientific, social and literary thought.

The Snow Queen is a fantastical elaboration of Hans Christian Andersen's folk tale of the same name. It records events on Tiamat, a world which exists in two states of being, Summer and Winter, alternating every century and a half. The Change is governed by a nearby revolving black hole, which provides a relativistically time-offset Stargate to the seven worlds of The Hegemony—the remote, political empire to which Tiamat is affiliated. The Stargate is closing. Summer approaches and the 150-year reign of Arienrhod, the Snow Queen, is drawing to a close. Her youth and beauty have been sustained by regular injections of "the water of life", a silvery serum extract of the blood of an intelligent sea-creature, the mer, which is slaughtered for the purpose. Now Arienrhod's extended life must end, but she seeks to outlast Summer and rule other Winters by reproducing her exact body and mind in clones grown from her own cells.

Vinge spins her intricate story in sensuous pleasure-giving prose that restores to the child in the reader all the delights of Faerie even while posing problems of adult concern. In her carefully crafted world of Festivals and Sybils, aristocrats and fisher folk, she lodges such moral questions as the propriety of one mind-form preying physically upon another, and the bitter probability that sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless clone.

Like all fairy stories, The Snow Queen is irreproachable in terms of plausibility. Perhaps the properties of "real" black holes aren't quite right for this story. Perhaps human nature does not in fact work the way anthropologist Vinge proposes. Never mind. Somewhere … in superspace, Arienrhod must rule over Tiamat, and Moon and Sparks and Starbuck must fight and play.

The growing interest in science-fiction suggests that, like The Snow Queen's world of Tiamat, our world is also confronted by a profound transformation. Our Change marks the end of the three-centuries-old Winter ruled over by the King of Pessimism, Sir Isaac Newton, and the advent of the lab-tested magical world of alternate quantum realities. This is the peripeteia that heralds the downfall of realism and the restoration of science fiction to its proper, central throne in literature.

Richard Lubbock, "Long Live the New Queen of Faerie," in Books in Canada, Vol. 10, No. 1, January, 1981, p. 8.

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