Joan D. Vinge:The Summer Queen

[spoilers for The Snow Queen and World's End herein]

This is an incredible trilogy. Yes, despite what I'm told on the cover, The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen does not make a complete unit, without the volume World's End in between. A few scenes from it are excerpted in The Summer Queen, and it's synopsized, but I still consider it an essential part.

If I tried to synopsize The Summer Queen, I'd end up with a long boring message. So I'll just summarize the setup, which will take long enough: Tiamat is a planet orbiting a multiple-star system that includes a black hole; it thus has "Summer" and "Winter" each lasting close to a century. The once-mighty Terran Empire fell many years ago, and several of its secrets, including the manipulation of "smartmatter", have been lost. Its stardrive technology had also been lost, but travel via black holes was possible, so eight worlds linked by such travel formed a loose alliance called The Hegemony. Tiamat was not part of the Hegemony, and access was only possible during Winter because of the position of the stars in the system.

In Tiamat's oceans live creatures called mers, who are semi-humanoid and exchange beautiful songs. Their blood, however, is the reason the Hegemony is interested in Tiamat, since from it can be made "the water of life", which provides immortality if one takes it regularly.

Then there are sibyls. Some humans infected with the sibyl virus die, or go insane. Others become connected to the sibyl net, a vast network who can consult one of the databases of the old empire. Lately, though, the sibyl net has become slightly unreliable...

Kharemough, the dominant world of the Hegemony, has a caste system of Technicians, Nontechnicians, and Unclassifieds. Technicians, the highest class, use initials as their names, and follow a policy of "death before dishonor".

Native Tiamatans are divided into Summers, who are fairly "primitive" and rule during the time the offworlders are gone, and Winters, who are dominant when the offworlders are present and love the technology they bring.

Now, the characters. Moon Dawntreader Summer is the Summer Queen, in actuality a clone of Arienrhod, the former Snow Queen. She is striving to introduce technology to the Summers, and save the mers. She also has a strong rapport with the sibyl net. Sparks Dawntreader Summer is her husband, a former lover of Arienrhod's and a slayer of mers under her aegis.

BZ Gundhalinu is a Kharemoughi who was a Police Commander on Tiamat, until he and Moon were stranded together with nomads and she saved his life; they fell in love, and he left her pregnant with twins. When he went in search of his brothers, who had lost his family's property, on the planet Number Four, he went into the nightmarish place called World's End, got infected with the sibyl virus, and discovered a source of the stardrive plasma, which would make it possible to return to Tiamat in Summer, among other things...he was made a hero and chosen to lead the stardrive project.

Jerusha PalaThion was Gundhalinu's superior, an offworlder who fell in love with a Ngenet Miroe, a Tiamatan smuggler and mer-studier, and decided to stay when the rest of the offworlders left. Kirard Set Wayaways Winter is a former supporter of Arienrhod who is highly skilled at the art of manipulation.

Reede Kullervo is a driven man with a knack for manipulating smartmatter, a fragmented memory of his past, and a dependence on "the water of death", his failed attempt to duplicate the water of life, which sustains him as long as he continued to take it but will kill him painfully when he stops. Ariele and Tammis are Moon's twin children.

Finally, there is an organization named Survey which is behind much of the activity in the Hegemony; it is divided into two factions, the Golden Mean(good guys)and the Brotherhood(bad guys). They both want control of the stardrive plasma and/or the water of life.

The book starts slowly, especially the scenes on Tiamat, which is fairly uneventful until Gundhalinu contacts Moon to warn her that the offworlders are returning...and Moon discovers that the mers are the sibyl net, but that for its protection she is forbidden to tell anyone.

Once the book finally gets moving and all the players are on Tiamat, it doesn't let up until pages from the end. Vinge is not amiss to doing nasty things to her characters, and certainly don't expect them all to be alive at the end. It's a majestic and intricately woven book--I'd have to add formidable, in all senses of the word, as well, since it took me longer to read than Les Miserables, albeit in a busy week...

I'm almost sorry that Vinge seems to have closed off the story, although anything more would be anticlimax. Read it and its prequels, if you haven't already. You won't regret it.

%A Vinge, Joan D.
%T The Summer Queen
%I Warner Questar
%C New York
%D Copyright 1991
%G ISBN 0-446-36251-4
%P 949 pp.
%S Tiamat
%V Book 3
%O Paperback, US$5.99, Can$6.99

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com