<< The New Space Opera 1/18 >>
Gwyneth Jones story is a perfect example for the confusion between setting and plot when it comes to space opera. The setting might have the right scale, but the plot itself doesn’t. That said, I actually enjoyed the story immensely. A small scale political intrigue as part of bigger political machinations that in many ways reflect contemporary global Realpolitik and yet told a SF story in its own right.
Plot-wise its about an alien culture with two main strains, one, smaller in number but dominant, having ruled the others in a medieval society until the arrival of the intergalactic culture let the ruled strain to rebel. That rebellion basically broke their planet, reduced it to a ecological hellhole, and now the intergalactic culture tries to negotiate between both An and Ki to install a program to save their world.
One of the minders for the An party of two to the negotiations, misreads the situation, with her male An protege and the female An protege minded by her partner. The male An is barbaric and follows the old ways, preying on the Ki (hunting and killing basically, something that’s not disclosed to the wider intergalactic public to not make them want to burn the An race to the ground), while the minder thinks the female An would be a better choice, as she grew up somewhere else and would not fall into the same pattern.
Sometimes the fables, like the one with the scorpion, are useful to remember.
What’s more horrific about all of this is that the government of the intergalactic culture knows all this, but prefers to keep it all silent, as long as the An don’t prey on the Ki in an industrialized way. What’s a few nobodies being eaten versus a planet saved. It’s a cold, monstrous calculation, and I wish I could say it is unrealistic and it would never happen.
But so many similarities in our own world, so many ignored genocides and wars in poor places that the first world rather not sees and which allows madmen and monsters to rule. And it’s not mere fictional evil governments, its a complicity of a public who doesn’t want to know and governments who know that they could make things worse even with the best intentions.
The story is full of understated tragedy, with an almost lightweight tone that tries its best to lull the reader into thinking that here’s a story he’s seen a thousand times, until the horror of what happened and will happen even after the story ends slowly dawns on him. It’s a story that can make you angry, not the hot-bloodied anger, but the cold one that runs deep and makes you wish to step into this world and set things right, until you realize that’s it’s not that simple, neither here nor there.