Saturday, May 16, 2020

A Paradigm of Earth

Candas Jane Dorsey
Completed 5/13/2020, Reviewed 5/13/2020
3 stars

This book had a lot of things going for it:  interesting concept, interesting characters, decent plot.  Where it failed for me was in the pacing.  It was too slow for me.  It spent a lot of time in the main character’s head.  Granted, the book is about depression, among other things.  I think judicious editing could have made it seem less plodding.  The book was nominated for several awards, including the Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2002. 
 (Sorry, the text wrapping function seems to be broken)

The setting is near-future Canada, where the political tide has turned very conservative.  In particular, women, minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community have lost many of their social gains.  In this tense world, Morgan has inherited a very large home in a Canadian Plains town.  To pay the bills on the house, she rents out the rooms to a group of social and sexual misfits.  She also answers an ad for a child care facility which turns out to be a local government center where they have an alien held.  This alien is one of thirteen scattered around the globe.  The alien is an open book and needs to be taught about Earth.  It bonds with Morgan and begins learning to speak and read.  They find out that these aliens have come to learn about Earth and take that knowledge back to their planet.  After a while, the alien runs away from the facility only to end up at Morgan’s doorstep asking if s/he can live there. Together with her eclectic roommates, the alien gets a deep understanding of what it is to be human.

There’s a subplot of a murder mystery amidst all this.  People around the alien turn up dead.  It sort of fits into the book, but it’s not a driving force in the action.  It’s almost as if the author was looking for a little harder edge for the book.  But it too suffers from the slow pace of the book.

The characters that make up the house are an interesting group.  Most are bisexual or gay.  One is in a wheelchair.  Only one is completely straight, and he’s an arrogant asshole.  The local police force also plays a big role in this book, keeping the house secure so that no harm comes to the alien.  The police characters are also an interesting bunch.  It’s never really clear whether they are the enemy or not, but they do keep the place relatively free of “vidarazzi”, the video paparazzi.

The stars of the book are Morgan and Blue, the alien.  Morgan loses both parents at the beginning of the book.  She never really grieves sufficiently, leaving her in a state of depression.  It keeps her from having real relationships with her roommates, who are constantly trying to reach through her despair.  The only real light in her life is her work with Blue.  The depression is where the book often gets derailed.  There are long passages inside Morgan’s head dealing with the depression.  To me, they were too long and too philosophical.  This is where I think the editing could have really helped.  I often found my mind wandering during these passages, and occasionally falling asleep. 

Blue, as a counterpoint to Morgan, is full of life. S/He begins as a child, learning everything about life on Earth from scratch, including language and boundaries.  In much of the book though, s/he is developmentally a teenager.  Between Morgan and the internet, Blue develops mentally much more quickly than emotionally.  And Blue’s ultimate question of life on Earth is “what is love”.

So the book is not as much about aliens as much as it is about love, depression, and being human.  Blue is merely the medium through which these ideas are explored.  It is very much soft science fiction.  I give it three stars out of five.  There were simply too many long sections inside Morgan’s head that derailed the plot.  This isn’t an action-packed book, but when there was activity between the characters, it was much more interesting.  By all rights, this could have been a four-star book if it just moved along better.

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