Saturday, January 06, 2007

Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh and Floating Worlds by Cecelia Holland

Both of these novels are set in future- sorta-Islamic societies, Nekropolis in the nearer future, Floating Worlds in a future after years of space travel and human diaspora from Earth to other worlds.

I decided to check out the MFM book after reading MOM. A portion of this novel appears there as a short story, not one of my favorites, but I wanted to see how she carried the ideas expressed in the story in novel format. Nekropolis is about a woman named Hariba, who, after seeing a love affair tear her poor, but happy family apart, decides to reject marriage and go into the workforce as a jessed servant. The jessing process causes the patient to become loyal to whomever they imprint on, usually their employer. This allows the person to work without complaint and attain all the qualities wanted in service people, without their being naturally submissive. As a concept, it reminds me of the various classes in Counting Heads, each class cloned from a human being with extraordinary personality qualities (like loyalty, empathy or sexiness), which caused them to live lives and have jobs that fit into a rather strict hierarchy of folks. In that case people were designed to fulfill certain societal roles. In Nekropolis, this is a voluntary process, but one that sets the course for the rest of the person’s life. When Hariba falls in love with another servant, a genetically engineered beauty, her life gets crazy and she changes in unexpected ways.

I liked how MFM used the constraints of her rigidly religious society to create a compelling plot, but I never felt all that close to Hariba, though much of the story is told in her voice. The latter fourth of the book tackles what it is like to be an expatriate living in a hypocritical land, and I found this part of the story to be more interesting.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but it didn’t blow me away like MOM. I wish the library would buy some more of her titles so I could see what the rest of her novels are like.

Floating Worlds is a big yellow chunker I picked up on a whim at the Strand. The main character is an anarchist from Earth named Paula. She has a shitty boyfriend and no real job and lives in a commune like almost everybody else on the planet. Because of a stint in jail, she happens to know the Styth language, the language of big, angry, protectively racist people descended from humans that live on a far-off planet. She gets a job as a kind of diplomat to these folks and starts screwing the leader of their rag-tag and rowdy delegation. Then she realizes she is pregnant.

This book was written in the mid-seventies and it shows, but in a way I found kind of charming. Paula is supposed to be a “liberated” woman (read: really aggressive) and her navigation of various other, more repressive societies is interesting, but often the choices she makes (many of which drive the plot) make no sense. Since that is often par for the course in spacey SF with a message, I didn’t mind, but this book fell short of good for me. I did, however love falling into its hugeness and seeing how Holland imagined how the human race ended up after wriggling its way out into the solar system.

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