Friday, January 11, 2013

What we're reading: Science Fiction

The Friday before my long Christmas weekend, I went looking in the Sci Fi section for the last book in George R. R. Martin's epic saga that starts with The Game of Thrones. Needless to say, it wasn't there; since the television series on HBO began, all those books are checked out pretty much all the time. I wasn't quite as disappointed as I expected to be, however, because I discovered, right next to Martin, a book I hadn't heard of yet, by author Louise Marley. Her science fiction novel The Terrorists of Irustan, with an arresting feminist theme, is one of my all-time favorites, and I also enjoyed The Glass Harmonica, an odd combination of historical fiction with the paranormal, which I discovered while trying to research glass harmonicas when our publicity department brought the player of one to the Central Library for a program.

The "new" book, which was published in 2004 (how did I miss it?), is called The Child Goddess, and it is as interesting/intriguing as either of the other books of hers I have enjoyed. Its themes--religion, corporate greed, the exploitation of indigenous peoples, colonization of other worlds--reminded me of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God, but without the inclusion of alien races. It does, however, lead to an interesting discussion of "indigenous": If a people have occupied a planet for 300 years without contact with the home world, are they still considered colonists?

ExtraSolar Corporation is attempting to install a hydrogen plant on the world Virimund, an unoccupied earth-like planet with an equator-circling archipelago of islands. Some of its resident workers use their day off to explore other nearby islands in the chain, only to be attacked by a band of children. In the confusion, one ExtraSolar employee and one of the "natives" are killed, while another little girl is injured. For some reason, the doctor assigned to the project decides to bring the injured child back to Earth to study her, which is expressly against the rules of dealing with indigenous peoples from other worlds, and this is where we enter the story, which is told from the viewpoint of Isabel Burke, a Catholic priest with the Order of Mary Magdalene. Mother Burke is appointed the temporary guardian of the child, Oa, and soon discovers there are plots within plots and that everything is not what it seems. The book uses Isabel and Oa as vehicles to explore the concept of personhood, the function of religion in both the human psyche and the social construct, and the various aspects of love--maternal, romantic, universal--all while telling an enthralling story.

One thing we always do when publishing blog posts about books is link the post to the books in our catalog so our readers can find them, which is how I discovered that Burbank Public Library owns neither of Marley's other books mentioned in the first paragraph. I have corrected this oversight by ordering them, so you can soon check them out for yourself. I'm so glad I couldn't find A Dance with Dragons!

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