[Book Review] The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen / Joan D. Vinge

The Snow Queen reinvents the well-known fairy tale into a far flung future, combing elements of science fiction and fantasy together into a textured space opera.

For nearly 150 years Winter has ruled over the planet of Tiamat, a world in a solar system with two suns which revolve around a black hole.  During Winter the planet is accessible to interstellar travel via a black hole gate, but during Summer the system's orbit isolates Tiamat from other planets and the Hegemony that rules them.  As the last years of Winter wane, the Winter Queen sets plans in motions to retain the throne and power through the transition, even at the expense of genocide.

I discovered The Snow Queen through Women in Science Fiction, with Vinge as one of the many incredible female SF authors who's been unfortunately forgotten.  It's a 1981 Hugo Winner with a whole lot going on in it.  I put in as the November Virtual Speculation pick based on that stumbled upon review and I'm really I discovered it.

Discussion Fodder
  • From the very start of the story the split in myths and technology is present.  Moon is upset by the 'unthinking arrogance that came into his voice' when Sparks gives explanations that she knows in response to her enjoying a myth.  What other ways are the two systems at odds, and are there ways they are in-sync?
  • Traditionally sibyls were oracles.  How does that apply to the sibyls in this universe?
  • How are the different civilizations similar or different?  What traits about them stand out to you the most?  How feasible do the planet-wide civilizations seem (over say country or continent wide civilizations)?
  • The Snow Queen is a retelling of a story of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson.  What do you think of this reworking?  Where does it succeed, where does it fail, what reminds you of the original, what is missing?
  • Sparks changes over the course of the book.  How much of that do you think was directly due to Arienrhod and how much do you think was there all along? 
  • What are the mers?  What do you imagine them to look like?  What is their role?
  • How does the story address racism, sexism, and issues of tribalism and alienation?
  • What symbolism can you find behind the names used in the story?

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