Monday, March 28, 2005

Title:Dreaming In Smoke
Author: Tricia Sullivan
Publisher: Millennium

When probes reached the planet T’Nane it was found to be perfect for humans. So time was taken to assemble a crew – mothers and grunts. The next generation was decided on by sponsorships, embryos generated by those able to pay, transported to a new planet and delivered when the time is right by the mothers. However, by the time the ship travelled through space, years had passed since the probe had studied T’Nane. Such that the planet has entirely transformed in the mean time, offering a hostile new environment to the new arrivals.

Using the ship’s AI, Ganesh, a base was set up and the colony went about doing what it could to scrape out an existence. After a base line was established, the embryos were delivered, and the planet had it’s next generation of humans. The mothers formed a hierarchy, in charge of the colony, with the male “grunts” doing the hard work, while the kids grow up. In that time the society becomes entirely dependent on Ganesh.

Kalypso Deed is the fuck up of the colony. No where nearing reaching the potential of the parents who supplied there genes for a baby of the T’Nane colony. She spends all her time plugged into Ganesh’s Dream systems, and listening to Earth music. Not really keeping up with her cluster mates, who have more pressing interests, like ensuring the colony has enough oxygen or enough food to survive in the long term.

Of course when one of the grunts causes a crash of Ganesh the system comes down around the colony’s ears. With Kalypso caught right in the middle of the crash scenario and held partly responsible as far as the mother’s are concerned. Everything gets chaotic from there, they all have to evacuate, head out to the secondary base, take what they can. Unfortunately for Kalypso her fate is tied to the grunt who is driven crazy by the crash, and she finds herself deep in the wilds. Where it starts to become clear strange things are happening to Ganesh, and that in fact they might not be the only ones out here in the wild.

Tricia Sullivan’s most recent novel was Maul, which was published by Orbit rather than Millennium. Maul and Dreaming In Smoke are quite different as novels, the basic plots and scenarios entirely divergent. But reading them both, one is conscious of the thematic connections that go into Sullivan’s work. Not least that of being a woman writer she has what could probably be described as a more “feminist” approach than many of her male peers. Both Maul and Dreaming In Smoke presenting societies lead by women – in Maul men are an endangered species, while in Dreaming In Smoke the Mothers are in charge because they gave birth to the colony. Though with that, Sullivan doesn’t come across as a raging Feminist – her portrayal of Mothers doesn’t have the same kind of aspect as one might expect after encountering Dave Sims anti-feminist portrayal of Mothers and Daughters. Sullivan has a certain humour, part of which comes through in how she handles the “mothers” or generally “authority figures” – she offers the idea in Dreaming Of Smoke of drunks and druggies, which the T’Nane born kids kind of have to rebel against sooner or later.

Themes of viruses, computer and biological, and the potentials for intelligence coming from these kind of fractioned and microscopic systems are central and both of these novels by Sullivan. There are even parallel scenes of blue painted skins, of the human body as chemical factories. These are the kinds of things which play the part of the real core of Sullivan’s story, past the ideas alien planets or changed societies, it is clear that her big ideas are the ideas of the small.

The pacing in both these novels is surprisingly rapid, perhaps hectic in the flow of words. On the one hand she offers a rollicking science fiction ride, which can compete with some of the more action orientated science fiction novels of recent years. But at the same time she manages to get some classic science fiction ideas and make them as central as any of the whiz bang motions. Something which can’t always be said about those fast novels, which rely more heavily on the action alone.

To some degree one of the distinct themes of Dreaming In Smoke is that of music and the part it plays in the novels development. Unfortunately this is underdeveloped by Sullivan, so that it doesn’t take as big a part as it promises. Meaning that this kind of territory is more fully explored by Kathleen Ann Goonan in her Queen City Jazz and Crescent City Rhapsody novels.

Tricia Sullivan’s Dreaming In Smoke is pretty readable, fast paced with a certain amount of fun in the process. There are some nice experimental touches with the narrative in terms of layout/fonts, which compliment the text. And on the whole this is a decent read, which backs up the idea that Sullivan is doing something interesting.

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