Genre: Science Fiction
A young woman living off her wits in Victorian Hong Kong is offered a position as tutor to a teenage giant space snail, and takes it. That’s the premise. Yup: it intrigued me too.
“Well written,” “quirky sense of humor,” and “doesn’t fit the genre” are the comments McDonough-Wachtman hears most about her books and stories. She worked as a burger-flipper, a journalist, and has spent the last fifteen years teaching high school. Read more about her and her books on her blog.
I picked this book for review as it had resonances with one I reviewed a while ago (Doctor Alien) and I wanted to see how they compared. Readers of my Doctor Alien review may recall that its pedigree was hard SF out of Analog magazine. This is a much softer read than Doctor Alien, although both investigate how an alien consciousness might relate to a human being. And of course, inter alia, investigates how human beings work.
This is a real mash-up of space opera, humour and occasional slapstick, and psychology. At one point I wondered if it was intended for the YA market: but as our nicely brought up Victorian heroine has a bit of a potty mouth, maybe not.
There is jeopardy, caused by inter-galactic cultural misunderstandings. There is a well-communicated sense of being very far from home. The heroine, Susannah Maureen Chambers McKay (mouthful much?) is a feisty young woman whose eyes light up when the word ‘adventure’ is uttered and who has always been told by her mother that she has an ‘unfortunate’ sense of humour. As she has recently lost her father, is penniless, and nobody will employ her to do anything respectable, she is delighted to be offered work tutoring Intlack-Eldest. Being in the Orient, and not fluent in Chinese, she finds nothing odd about her pupil’s name. And she misunderstands what sort of ‘ship’ she will be travelling on until it’s too late to do anything sensible.
The spaceship and way of life of the intelligent snails is interestingly realised, as is the suggestion that many species live beyond the ken of humans, that Earth is frequently visited, and is looked down on as being pretty backward.
The unique selling point, however, is that the snails communicate entirely telepathically. Humans, of course, do not. The guarding and sharing of thoughts is of paramount importance; dialogue is … different. The exploration of how this different form of communication might work provides the tensions in this most entertaining book. In places it is laugh-out-loud funny, in others it made me stop and think. Hard SF it ain’t, but it is fun.
I was working from an ARC so cannot comment on anything connected with editing. There are a few, surprisingly strong, swear words (for a young Victorian woman).
Rating: **** Four Stars
Reviewed by: Judi Moore
Approximate word count: 30-35,000 words