Thursday, March 29, 2012

REVIEW: SufferStone

Title: SufferStone – Book 1 of the Dolvia Saga
Author: Stella Atrium
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $3.03 (Kindle) / $19.95 (paperback)
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 978-1462070428
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Some books are easy to review, whiles others, not so much. For me, SufferStone falls into the latter category. Stella Atrium, the author, is local to me (Chicago) and I think I’ve seen her around at various science fiction functions. I found out about the book via an email, and I asked for a copy to be sent to me. So, on one hand, I want to recommend this book. On the other…

Stella’s web page and back-of-book blurb says in part, “I began to wonder why the protagonist in a sci-fi or fantasy story was always a man, even when the writer was female.” This baffled me, since I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Moon, who writes books chock full of female characters. I suspect it would baffle Ms. Moon, who recently had a bit of a rant on the “missing” female characters. (Hint – they’re not missing at all.)

At any rate, when I started reading SufferStone, I was expecting a female protagonist. I was wrong – the first 91 pages are told from the point of view of a man, one Brian Miller of Earth. He also tells the conclusion of the story. This got me thinking about other world-building questions. Miller is from Earth, and works with / around the Company, an autocratic entity controlled by Chinese and given near-Imperial powers. Okay, fine – humans have colonized at least part of the galaxy. Miller is sent to Dolvia, a planet being colonized by humans. Except there’s already a large human presence there, which has been on-planet long enough to develop tribal customs and relationships with the planet. How did the humans get there?

Another factor which drives the book is a decision by the Company to mine uranium at a site sacred to the locals. In the book, the author has miners getting radiation burns from uranium. Well, here on Earth, naturally-occurring uranium doesn’t have nearly enough radioactivity to do that. In fact, the main threat of uranium mining is inhaling radon gas in closed mines, which will eventually cause lung cancer. Some of the other authorial decisions had me scratching my head. Miller is tasked with getting a local clothing mill operating on Dolvia. That dominates the first 91 pages, and once we get to more substantial events, all the action is off-stage. Lastly, Atrium has invented a native language in which the same character can have multiple names, sometimes in the same sentence, and I found myself struggling to keep track of who was who.

In short, SufferStone is probably not the book I would have written. On the other hand, I did find myself being drawn into the book. Based on what I had written above, I would have expected to not finish SufferStone. But finish it I did. I found it oddly fascinating, and something about the book kept drawing me into it. I think part of what pulled me in was seeing the patterns of imperialism playing out again. I also think that Ms. Atrium made me care about the characters, thus I cared what happened to them. So, I’m putting SufferStone down as an interesting read.

Rating: 7/10

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