Saturday, 6 August 2011

JUNIPER TIME BY KATE WILHELM

Mostly very good, even if, purely as extrapolation, a lot of plot elements haven't held up. A very canny and thoughtful derailment of a carefully built-up first contact motif set against a near future world where international conflict and ecological crisis prevail.

Where the novel failed for me, right at the eleventh hour, was in the excessively expository manner in which the conflicts and resolutions of the last 20 pages are played out, all tell and no show. Wilhelm has points to make about human motivation, the dehumanising nature of obsession, our pathetic management of the environment, our addiction to one-upmanship and our counter-productive attachment to seeing things as binaries. She also creates at least one fascinating central character; but he is not sympathetic, and one sympathetic character; but she is too good to be true. The rest of the characters are like stock figures in a passion play. Despite which there is some very beautiful writing that displays an admirable sense of place and grasp of metaphor.

A wise book, but not enough of a novel. By way of contrast, see Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe Of Heaven, which exemplifies why John Clute describes Le Guin as a 'wise teller of tales'.

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