Saturday, November 5, 2016

SALVAGE, Alexandra Duncan's cli-fic/feminist/SF/dystopian door-stopper of a good read

(Salvage #1)
Greenwillow Books
$17.99 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean.

I think that's pretty damn skimpy, so here's the flap copy as well:

Her life is a shadow of a life. Her future is not her own to fashion. Her family is a tangle of secrets. She cannot read. She cannot write.

But she is Parastrata Ava, the Captain's eldest daughter, the so girl of a long-range crew—her obligations are grave and many.

And when she makes a mistake, in a fragrant orchard of lemons, the consequences are deaadly.

There are some who would say, There but for the Mercies go I.

There are some who would say Parastrata Ava is just a silly earthstruck girl who got what was coming to her.

But they don't know the half of it.

My Review: Well now, wasn't this a long damn book. Luckily I liked it, so it wasn't a looooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnggggg damn book.

Feminist dystopian SF as a category description doesn't get me in a lather of urgency to read a book. It might be more likely to lather me up now, since Duncan's gift for poetical description is deployed to create such a series of parallel worlds. The Crewe of Parastrata, Ava's birthplace and homeland, are misogynistic patriarchal violence addicts. The strange society of the Gyre, where Ava finds lovingkindness, is worthy of an entire book of its own. The horrifying megamega-megalopolis of Mumbai, 170 MILLION strong, made me claustrophobic, and the modren tecknowledgee was more like what we'll have in 2020 than one big complaint.

But listen, if your Firefly love was at least partly rooted in its unique linguistic take on the future (if you DIDN'T love Firefly you wouldn't be my friend and therefore shouldn't be bothered by reading this review), this book will scratch the bump left by its short life. Like Firefly as well is the more-or-less libertarian bent of this book's worlds. It's completely impossible to closely govern a dense population the size of Mumbai, no matter how high your tech.

The pleasures of reading lovely sentences are sometimes lessened by those sentences serving a slow-paced story. For my part I found the leisurely pace of the novel added to my sense of getting to know the worlds Duncan was giving me in some depth. Some things still managed to get sprung on me. I found Ava's about-face from Obedient Girl to Power Ranger a bit unfounded, for example. But in the end, it was a small cavil in the larger picture of empowerment and growth.

In my quest never to ossify above the neck, I choose a genre to read a book in that I normally avoid like it gots the cooties. YA is one of those genres for me. This YA novel was a pleasant surprise, and it contained a message that I would very much like any teenaged girl in today's world to receive. No one will empower you. Empower yourself and refuse to listen to "no."

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