I had decided a while ago that it was time for me to move past just Kindred, and this title kept popping up after the recent election. As with Kindred, I wanted just a little more nuance and polish in the writing. The ideas in both books are thought-provoking, but the prose, especially the dialogue, can be a bit wooden and didactic.
I have never really understood the purpose of genres – beyond marketing and shelving things in libraries and bookstores. I don’t see why this title was in the Science Fiction section at the legendary and awesome Strand Bookstore. It is no more science fiction than any other dystopian novel. And those are generally found in the general fiction section. I only know the two titles I’ve mentioned, so perhaps her other books are more obviously science fiction, so people tend to put all of her work in that section.
I was challenged to get over my “mental block” about sci-fi (or whatever genre this is) and read this. After all, I’d loved her two Western books – Doc and Epitaph. For a while, I didn’t think I was really engaged in it. I was appreciating Russell’s skill with character, structure, and detail, but then two things happened.
First, when I was in the world of Rakhat in the book, someone interrupted me. I was not just surprised, but shocked; my mind rocketed back to earth. So that shattered any belief that I was reading this as an intellectual exercise. Still, I thought I knew what was coming. In fact, I began to be concerned that Russell hadn’t left herself enough pages to do the ending justice.
I was wrong. On both counts. The ending is absolutely devastating and perfectly handled. Everything makes sense and, as with the main character, nothing makes sense. I am still reeling.
Am I a sci-fi / speculative fiction / fantasy convert? No, but I may finally pick up a book my wife has been urging me to read for a while – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Mary Doria Russell’s website