Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: World's End by Joan D. Vinge

WORLD’S END picks up roughly five years after THE SNOW QUEEN ends. BZ Gundhalinu has relocated to Four, the Hegemony’s least desirable planet, to rebuild his career. He's having a hard time of it as it is, what with the scars on his wrist marking him as a failed suicide, but when his older brothers disappear in a dangerous mining preserve they entered in a bid to regain the family fortune they squandered, it’s the last straw. With neither personal nor familial honour to sustain him, BZ’s reserves give out. He takes leave from his police job and ventures into World’s End himself, there to restore at least some of his honour by discovering what happened to his brothers.

I loved this book not so much for the story--though it’s a good ‘un that carries undeniable repercussions for the series as a whole and for what Moon’s trying to do back on Tiamat--but for the ways in which it’s essentially a fairy tale.

I’m fairly sure WORLD’S END isn’t a straight adaptation like THE SNOW QUEEN (though I could be wrong on that; y’all know my track record when it comes to identifying fairy tale retellings). Instead, Vinge uses the basic fairy tale structure as a framework for a science fiction story.

We have two older brothers, flawed and feckless, who embark upon a quest they are doomed to fail.

We have a talented younger son who steps in to complete his brothers’ quest out of a sense of familial duty.

There’s a lengthy journey, replete with untrustworthy travelling companions, otherworldly guides, and a descent into revelatory madness.

The hero strives to rescue a princess from a tower, though she herself may prove an obstacle.

And it turns out there's a stupendous and magical thingy at the heart of it all.

WORLD'S END is a wildly different book from THE SNOW QUEEN. While the earlier offering took a third person, multi-POV approach, WORLD’S END is comprised of BZ’s first person journal of his travels, with a framing story to provide some context and give the tale a proper ending. I’m pleased to report that Vinge’s writing is every bit as engaging in first person as in third. I gulped her down as quickly as ever I could, and ended up reading the book in a single day. (This isn’t the feat it could've been, given that it’s only 240 pages of rather large font, but let's pretend.)

The story is also much smaller in scope; more personal, with BZ’s own emotional journey as the driving force. Having endured torture in captivity, failed his suicide attempt, lost the respect of his entire culture, and permanently exiled himself from the woman he loves, he’s a broken man. The narrative gives him the space he needs to heal, though not without inflicting a sight more damage along the way. While his journey does have galaxy-wide repercussions, they don’t emerge until fairly late in the game and are a direct result of everything BZ struggles with throughout the story. This is very much his tale of redemption.

It left me wicked excited for THE SUMMER QUEEN (which still eludes my grasp; damn.) I can’t wait to see how Vinge incorporates all this into Moon’s story, and whether she’ll continue the fairy tale theme over the next two volumes.

Alas, it's not an easy book to plug because it's out of print, but I encourage you to check your library, your favourite used bookstore, or Amazon third party sellers.


  1. I can't want to read her! In the New Year FOR SURE!

    1. I'm so eager for more of my blogging friends to read Joan D. Vinge. She's the sort of author you want to share with everyone.

  2. It's taken me ages to get to reading this post, but I'm so glad you enjoyed this book. I rather like it myself and having had the chance to hear Joan Vinge read from it, it now seems a bit extra special.

    I'm sorry you still haven't found The Summer Queen. If you were still in NZ I'd lend you mine, but you're a bit far away now for a book I'm not willing to lose. I do have a search saved on Trade Me for you, just in case it turns up. So far, I could have bought you The Snow Queen with the same awful cover I have or World's End or Psion, but no sign of the Summer Queen.

    1. Aw, thanks! I hate to think of how much it'd cost to send a book from Canada to NZ, though. I stuck to sending stuff like letters while I was there, but the packages I received from back home all had hefty prices on them.

      There are two big book markets in my area next months, I have my fingers crossed I can find ALL Vinge's books--the two Snow Queen ones I need, plus the Cat series and any of her 70s SF that crops up. I've seen her work there before (it's where I got my copy of THE SNOW QUEEN), so I'm hopeful.