Monday, October 06, 2008
Review of Alanya to Alanya
Title: Alanya to Alanya: Book One of The Marq’ssan Cycle
Author: L. Timmel Duchamp
Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Aqueduct Press
Point of Sale: Amazon
L. Timmel Duchamp is co-founder of Aqueduct Press, which “dedicates itself to publishing challenging, feminist science fiction.” I found Alanya to Alanya lived up to that assessment.
The book opens in Seattle in February, 2076. The Marq’ssan, an alien race, arrive and, after issuing a warning, blanket the world in an electromagnetic pulse which fries all but military-grade microprocessors and puts the world into chaos. At the same time, they have demanded each country send three female negotiators to meet with them. Professor Kay Zeldin is plucked from apparent obscurity and shipped off as one of the negotiators. It turns out that she has personal history as a spy working under Robert Sedgewick, who is now Chief of Security in a much more repressive America.
To say the “shock and awe” of the Marq’ssan (referred to in the book as “The Blanket”) doesn’t produce the desired results isn’t much of a spoiler. America in particular and much of the world in general is ruled by “Executives,” men (mostly) who have been biologically modified, presumably to make them more capable of analysis. It also greatly reduces their sex drives. There are several other, inferior classes of people, “service-techs” and “professionals” (like Zeldin) and the world’s standard of living for non-Executives has fallen greatly.
Much of the narrative in Alanya to Alanya is given over to various negotiation sessions and/or people discussing politics. For reasons that I don’t understand or buy into, humans refuse to believe the Marq’ssan are an alien race, instead thinking they are human terrorists. This is slightly more credible in that the Marq’ssan use technology to appear human, but the power required for the EMP pulse alone should be a tip-off. Also, despite a century of progress, human space travel seems stuck at current levels if that; for example, there is no mention of a manned orbital presence.
I also found Duchamp’s worldview and politics a bit weak. In an era where we have women winning Silver Stars for combat, her women are at times too passive. In her defense, she got into feminist science fiction as a result of an incident in 1970 when she went off to college, the first in her family of small-town farmers. She tried to get admitted as a composition student, but that was simply not open to females. She back-doored her way in, and got a composition of hers played at a recital. She then expected that mark of approval to get her formally into the program.
Her male professor told her that the only reason the (male) performers played the piece was that they wanted to sleep with her. He then asked her out for a beer, and admitted that he'd like to sleep with her too. Coming from a small town, she took him at his word, said no, and never composed music again. So I’m prepared to cut her a little slack in the world-building department.
Having said all of that, Duchamp’s female characters are people I care about. The novel’s deliberate pace seems to work at building suspense, and her trick of neutralizing technology seems to add to the narrative power. Overall, it’s an interesting work, although not quite my personal cup of tea.