In a future world, cancer has been all but eradicated. Jimson Alleca can live another 20 years with drugs and a peaceful lifestyle -- if he stays in space-normal. But he's willing to risk it all to make the jump into the Hype, the shimmering "not space" for one year among the stars.

I have a huge thing for choosing a short time of glory over a long stretch of not-so-great, so this premise was right up my alley. I also love the trope of "space will kill you but let's go anyway."

This book is and is not that. The blurb is correct as far as it goes, but the tone and content are not what I expected from it. It's much quieter, the emotions are far more low-key, and what Jimson actually does with his one year before leaving the planet kills him is nowhere near as dramatic as I expected. I liked it for what it was, though the beginning is stronger than the rest, but I'm still looking for the book the blurb promised.

Jimson is an artist with bone cancer under control with treatment, so long as he never goes into space; if he does, it will metastasize and kill him within a year due to radiation exposure. His art is acclaimed in worlds he'll never see, and he's still hung up on Russell, the boyfriend who bailed on him for outer space fourteen years ago and hasn't contacted him since. Jimson has gotten increasingly depressed, bored, artistically blocked, and trapped. Then Russell sends him a photo of himself with no note, and Jimson decides that he's had it: he'll take his one year and go look up Russell.

My favorite part of the book was this part, where Jimson is making his decision and taking interim steps toward it. There's some really beautiful writing and imagery. It's also, despite the sound of it, less about Russell (who has not yet appeared) and more about what Jimson wants to do with his life in general.

Then Jimson finally goes off-planet. I was expecting a desperate, defiant grab at glory and wonder in shimmering not-space. What he actually does is plonk down in a town on another planet, have a low-key affair with a woman pilot, and hang out in a bar. For months. And months. He has ONE YEAR TO LIVE, because he went off-planet, and he spends a whole lot of it not doing anything he couldn't have done on his own planet. I'm not sure if this was the point or what, because eventually Russell shows up and things take a different turn, but also, unfortunately, into anticlimax.

Russell is a giant bag of dicks. Again, I'm not sure if he was supposed to be or not, but I really disliked him. (I did like the portrayal of sexuality - most characters are bisexual and this is unremarked-upon - I just disliked Russell.) He's a space pirate, and realistically they would probably be jerks, but seriously? JERK. He ditches his doomed boyfriend and doesn't contact him for fourteen years, then sends him a photo and nothing else. The vanishing was because he was flipped out over Jimson's illness, and is understandable. The fourteen-years-late space selfie with no note attached? JERK. He then proceeds to be a dick for the rest of the book, though at least Jimson gets to be with him and is at least somewhat pleased about that.

Again, given the suggested delicious melodrama of the premise, Jimson is an incredibly low-key character and so is the book. There's one scene that sort of lives up to the "shimmering hyperspace" bit but Jimson's experience of hyperspace is that it's kind of reddish, and he spends most of it wandering around the spaceship making sure the characters who are doing exciting stuff don't forget to eat.

There's some mild space adventuring which is nowhere near exciting enough that I'd give up my whole life for it, followed by an ending which you may or may not read as a cop-out. Read more... )

This is at least the second book I've read in which someone chooses to go into space for a brief period of glory before it kills them. The other is Emma Bull's Falcon, which I like a lot but which skips most of the "period of glory" part, jumping from the moment right before the hero goes into space to several years later, when his time is about to run out.

Does anyone know of any more books with that premise? Especially if they actually write it the way it sounds like.

Only $4.00 on Amazon. A Different Light
Tanith Lee. She has a lush, romantic, gothic style that teeters on the edge of being overblown, and sometimes falls in. I like her short stories better than her novels, probably because that sort of style can become much of a muchness. Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer is worth checking out even if you’ve read lots and lots of revisionist fairy-tales; Lee isn’t so much about amazingly original ideas as she is about conveying intense, luscious, decadent atmosphere.

Megan Lindholm (AKA Robin Hobb) If you like small-scale adventure fantasy, unusual worldbuilding, and tough female protagonists who aren’t magicians or warriors, I can’t recommend Lindholm’s “Ki and Vandien” series highly enough. In the first book, Ki, a trader with her whole life contained in her wagon, takes down Vandien, a desperate man trying to steal her stuff, then pities and befriends him. For the rest of the series, Ki and Vandien wander the extremely peculiar world, having adventures and uncovering the secrets of Ki’s past. The character development is excellent and at the heart of the series, but Lindholm is also very good with depicting the varied cultures of the world. (Many of the inhabitants are basically aliens rather than anything fantasy-normal.) Unlike her “Robin Hobb” books, there is no whining and not a word wasted. The first and last books are my favorites in the series, but they’re best read in order. Harpy's Flight, Windsingers, Limbreth Gate (The Ki & Vandien Quartet), Luck of the Wheels. Click her tag for more reviews.

Elizabeth A. Lynn. I know I’ve read several of her books, so I’m not putting her in the “unread” list, but I apparently didn’t find them very memorable. I vaguely recall thinking that given their subject matter (martial arts and lesbians?), I ought to be more into them than I actually was.

Vonda McIntyre. Dreamsnake is a perennial favorite of mine: post-apocalyptic landscape, healer with bio-engineered medical snakes, and tender adoptive mother-daughter bonding between the healer and an abused girl she champions. Could do without the pasted-on villain unfortunately referred to as “the crazy.” But otherwise, I love this book to bits and pieces. I’m also very fond of her two original (not from the movies) Star Trek novels, and her sf novels. Dreamsnake and several others of her books are available in inexpensive ($4.99) e-book form here, and her space opera with polyamory, Starfarers, is up for free.

Patricia A. McKillip. She is great. I will rec one of her lesser-known novels, a perfect little gem of a book, which has the bonus of having one of the very few “a girl must choose between several suitors” plots which I actually like. It helps that they’re all worthy, sexy, and different… and that she picks my favorite. That being said, it’s not primarily a romance, but is more of a very atmospheric, magical coming of age story. After her fisherman father is drowned, teenage Peri hexes the sea in revenge, an impulsive act which sends out ripples of change into her fishing village, the surrounding kingdom, and the land under the seaThe Changeling Sea

Robin McKinley. She seems to have been left off accidentally, as she’s a major figure in the field. Her first book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, was published in 1978. It’s still wonderful, a quiet, cozy novel without villains, about family love, romantic love and the beauty of both magic and everyday life. I like the beginning parts, in which Beauty simply lives with her family in their little cottage, just as much as the parts set in the castle, with the Beast.

Pat Murphy. The City, Not Long After is about how San Francisco turns into a post-apocalyptic artist’s colony, and is saved from an invasion by a “war is awesome!” right-wing general by the power of art. Sort of. The climax seems to imply that only violence can defeat violence, which goes so completely against the message of the entire rest of the book that it felt as if someone had snuck into the room when the manuscript was almost done and scribbled, “PACIFISM IS TOTALLY UNREALISTIC” on it. Not bad, but I was unfairly irritated by the too-good-for-this-cruel world artists and started reflexively siding with the general.

Authors I’ve never read, L-P: Phillipa Maddern, Ardath Mayhar, Janet Morris, Sam Nicholson (AKA Shirley Nikolaisen), Rachel Pollack. If you’ve ever read anything by either of them, please discuss in comments.


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