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White Queen Kindle Edition
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White Lady is the most interesting description of interaction with aliens that I, a SciFi fan for over 40 years, have come across. Usually, aliens are described as shallow stereotypes, way advanced technologically, either loathsomely aggressive or unnaturally noble, and often cosmically incomprehensible. All alien individuals in a book normally have pretty much the same personality, barring differences in importance or status (nobleness or meanness).
Gwyneth Jones' aliens are alien in a totally new way. They are, of course, incomprehensible, but mostly because they are so different from us, rather than because they are so noble or so hostile. That incomprehensibility expresses itself in every interaction between humans and aliens - each interchange contains bits of understandings and bits of misunderstandings. Because, in some ways, they are also like us. The aliens, on Earth by accident, mostly want to make money. They are not above being deceitful in their interactions with us, neither are we with them. So they are understandable, in some ways. Are they interested in having a relationship with Earth in the "Take me to your leader!" sense. Some are, some are not. Certainly, "relationship" does not mean the same thing to them as it does to us. They are not especially interested either dominating us or teaching us. They have their own interests and they are not much in agreement with eachother. The depth of these shadings is what makes the book interesting.
Gender is a key theme of the book, but do the aliens have gender? Well yes, or maybe yes but not like us. Do they have sex? Well, not much and it sounds pretty different, but yes. With humans? Well that causes some confusion too. Especially to the extent that cross-species love is involved. By taking a bit of distance do we get something worth thinking about? Yes. And once in a while, a glimpse of seeing humans as aliens through alien eyes.
Is it challenging to read? Sometimes, but not in the "Oh, I'll try to again read this later sense". I always wanted to know what happens next, but I sometimes wished to think about what I had read. As one reviewer noted on another site, we are indeed left wanting more. But hey, I suppose that is pretty normal for the first book of a trilogy.
Iain Banks says:
"Seductively weird....populated by characters that live on in the mind long after the book's been put back on the shelf."
... and: "A triumph of the depiction of otherness" (he hits the nail on the head with that)
Time Out's Lisa Tuttle says:
"One of those rare books that stretches the intellect while it engages the heart."
Well, I cannot fault them for accuracy. Don't often read blurbs on the outside of books that relate so well to the text inside, but they have got it dead right.
As have Paddy and Mishi in their reviews.
Highly recommended to people who enjoy speculative fiction that is well written.
(Like this author's excellent "Bold as Love"/"Castles made of Sand"/Band of Gipsys", this is a trilogy, the next two are "North Wind" and "Phoenix Cafe". I've just ordered them - can't wait!)
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Set in 2039-40 A.D., this novel of first contact creates an almost credible near future earth and avoids the cliche of vastly superior aliens swooping down to subjugate humanity and strip its resources. Instead, Jones' aliens live among humans for awhile, cloaking their existence, until a strange emotional relationship between Johnny Guglioli, a UFO chaser, and Agnes/Clevel, an alien residing in Africa, leads to their discovery. Jones spends a lot of time creating our future world doing a credible job on technological and ecological aspects but the socio-political aspects are more alien, and unlikely, than the extraterrestrials. For example, the United States has been overthrown by socialists and are minor players in world politics. Equally unlikely is the lackadaisical response of the Earth's population to the discovery of aliens and the central role played by politically marginal actors in dealing with them.
Johnny Guglioli, the most interesting character, is infected with a "petrovirus" that destroys the substance "blue clay", which evidently has replaced silicon as the key data processing material. Being a former "eejay" or engineering journalist, his occupation is destroyed because he can no longer work with computers or similar machinery because his virus destroys the data processing capabilities of the "blue clay". Having his livelihood ruined he chases UFOs as a hobby, leading to his encounter with Agnes/Clevel, an alien who reveals itself to him. Enter Braemer Wilson, a journalist ostensibly searching for a story who seems to have information about aliens possibly living in Africa. The emotional triangle that develops between Guglioli, the alien Agnes/Clevel, and Braemer Wilson leads down a winding path of human and alien interaction, neither side quite trusting nor understanding the other. Through the emotional attachments of these characters the reader learns about the physical and spiritual components of the aliens. Their interactions raise the intensity level of the story and serve as a microcosm of the meandering search for understanding, frequented by severe misunderstandings, between alien and human throughout the novel.
White Queen's depiction of earth a little over fifty years from now does not seem quite authentic. And even though the aliens attempt to shield themselves from human observation, the groping attempts at mutual understanding seem too restrained for such a momentous event. White Queen is barely saved by its interesting human/alien interactions.
I don't recommend it, and I think I owe my sci fi book club an apology for choosing it as this month's reading selection.