Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

June 12, 2009

Molly Gloss – The Dazzle of Day

Filed under: review,sf — Tags: , , , , , — Sam @ 10:11 pm

This is a beautiful, spare, wrenching story, about a generation ship populated by Quakers. They’re approaching their destination, and need to decide whether to leave the ship for the new world, and whether they can. It’s one of those stories that probably couldn’t be told without being SF.

Reading it is like eating good bread – warm, slightly sharp sourdough, good nourishing plain food well made – with the occasional piercingly strong black olive of a perfectly turned phrase.

The title is a quotation from a Walt Whitman poem. Surprisingly, the poem (Gloss uses excerpts from his poetry, up to half a dozen lines, for chapter headings) talks about turning away from the dazzle of day, and using the darkness of the night to see the stars. Quaker metaphors often use the term ‘light’ to describe, well, anything important, and often this is sunlight… but every star is a sun, no matter how far away, and the inside of the Dusty Miller is lit by xenon lights. The lights, like everything else in the artificial biosphere, are maintained with the same fierce, uncompromising dedication that the Friends in this book bring to maintaining their own interpersonal relationships.

It’s not a happy religious utopia; there are conflicts, struggles, unhappinesses, the occasional mean-spirited gossip about people perceived to behave wrongly. But people work with mindfulness, and we see that reflected in the things around them; a tool, a ceramic bowl, a crematorium furnace. A world. Two worlds.

When I was thirteen or so, I learnt a good word: apotropaic. Standing against the darkness. One of the questions this book leads into is about being strong enough to stand in the light.

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