So, three Canadian SF writers and three American SF writers are sitting in
You may think I'm about to crack wise with a remark that would make Rick Mercer
or Roger Moore blush, but this was precisely the situation I found myself in
at Ad Astra (a Canadian litSF con) this year.
The main reason I managed to drag my ass out of bed at an ungodly hour of the
morning, on Saturday AND Sunday, with the remnants of a sinus cold from hell,
no less, was simple: I wanted to meet up with a loyal Branch
Riddellian like myself, and a writer with quite a few credits to her name,
a fact which I hadn't paid careful enough attention to before. Turns out, she
was meeting up with quite a few friends of her own, and I ended up, in the space
of two days, being introduced to the members of not just one, but two, SF writer's
groups, most of whom were published, or about-to-be-published, authors.
Which is how I ended up being centre stage for what could have appeared to
the outsider to look like the grand setup to that very cliched joke I started
above. Yes, the inevitable question was asked: "So, Velvet, do you write?"
Exactly how was I supposed to answer that? Probably demurely, politely, with
a humble "Oh yeah, I've done a review for Revolution Science Fiction, ya
That was precisely the moment the cold medication decided to kick in, however,
and I ended up doing my dead-on impersonation of a burbling idiot. My earlier
Troublemakers review was mentioned in the conversation, and a passing remark
was made, "Oh, maybe you can review Karin Lowachee's book, if you're interested."
Always eager to please, I of course said yes. (My personal motto being, I will
try anything once. Even fried alligator. But that's a convention story for another
This being a long and rambling account of how I came to be in possession of
a reviewer's copy of Warchild, by Karin Lowachee, which will be published
by Warner Aspect's Science Fiction imprint in April 2002. I can hear you screaming
at your monitors, enough blathering about yourself, you geek-eyed witless wonder,
how was the goddamned book? Funny you should ask.
Karin Lowachee's characters have a way of getting inside your head, when you're
not even reading the book, which is something I haven't had a SF/F novel do
for me in a long time. Maybe it's a simple psychological reaction to the prologue,
which is written entirely in second person, present tense (a grammatical sleight-of-mind
Lowachee pulls off seamlessly), which grabs you right from the start. Maybe
it's the mark of a good writer, plying her craft correctly and with a respectable
amount of skill. I lean towards the latter theory when it comes to Warchild.
This book has all the attributes one wants in good science fiction. Interesting,
varied, (and in most cases, badly screwed-up) characters, a richly-detailed
background, a well-fleshed-out alien species, an interstellar war complete with
intrigue and espionage, a little bit of cyber (minus the annoying, self-ingratiating
punk), and even valid, sensitive, and nicely-executed psychological studies
of child abuse and its lasting effects and Stockholm Syndrome thrown in for
good measure. All the while being a compelling and highly entertaining read.
The narrator throughout the book is Jos Musey, who goes from a child growing
up on a merchant ship which is attacked and raided by a pirate spacecraft where
he spends a year of his life and loses his childhood (which is where child abuse
is examined, in a chilling and very believable way), to growing up on a planet
that is truly alien to this character's eyes, as he has been born and brought
up onboard ships and stations. In the course of the book, Jos passes through
a rough and strangled childhood, on to an equally trying adolescence, and finally
into the role of a respected young adult. All the while trying to navigate the
role of double agent, and eventually peacemaker, between the two warring groups,
the humans, the striviirc-na, and the human sympathizers who side with the aliens.
Yes, the striviirc-na . The alien language and terms as used in the book are
a far cry from the "call it anything you want but mix up the consonants
and vowels" technique that passes for alien language in most SF. While
the philosophy and certainly the martial arts on display in the book borrow
from the Eastern tradition, there could be a subtle play of satire at work here,
with the philosophy-influenced fighting style of the striviirc-na versus the
human military's regulation and politics-bound hierarchy contrasting almost
deliberately... although both sides have their share of political troubles.
It is not a sharply-drawn black-and-white comparison of the two sides at war.
It is instead tinted with several shades of grey, and makes for an interesting
framework to lay the characters and events of the book over, as seen through
Having a single viewpoint character throughout might be considered self-limiting
in other novels, but in Warchild this narrative style is handled deftly,
without sacrificing characterization or plot, and provides for an interesting
read, as well as a sympathetic protagonist the reader will want to follow through
to the end. Too, the writing has a knack for telling us what Jos doesn't see,
through the use of skilled implications and barely-glimpsed edges of hints.
Rather than distancing the reader from the narrative, especially in the beginning
chapters, these veiled references serve to heighten the suspense and dramatic
Definitely a name to look for, hopefully Lowachee will add hers to the list
of well-known female Canadian science fiction authors that includes Nalo Hopkinson
and Julie E. Czerneda. Her personal voice certainly seems to be a distinctive
one, and should only get more interesting with time.