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Blueheart, Alison Sinclair, Millennium, 1996, 348 pp.
Blueheart is Sinclair's second novel, and it's a much better work than her first novel, Legacies. This book has a much more straightforward narrative structure, which serves Sinclair's writing style well: the focus of Legacies was split, while Blueheart spends all of its energy on one interesting situation, with all its variations and complications to consider. Blueheart does share one flaw with Legacies, which I will discuss in a moment, but this is minor compared to all the things Sinclair gets right. The story and setting of Blueheart follow in the tradition of some of the best science fiction; some aspects are reminiscent of Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean, while others are similar to books that have examined the ramifications of information technology and the surveillance society. All in all, Blueheart is an interesting package.
Blueheart is the name of a water world, and the events of the book take place on Blueheart in an era when humans have terraformed a handful of planets and have lived on Blueheart for a few hundred years. The general plan for Blueheart has been: study the ecology, then terraform. However, a group of people has been using "adaptive" technology for a long time now, changing their own bodies so that they can fit in with the existing biosphere. These adaptations include things like the ability to store oxygen in the body in order to stay underwater for long periods of time. These people have developed their own indigenous culture and have become known as pastorals. Not surprisingly, they oppose terraforming Blueheart. Other humans on Blueheart are known as primaries; they are mostly unadapted, mostly in favour of terraforming, and in control of most of the technology on the planet.
The book begins with a man named Rache of Scole. He is a pastoral who has been working as a scientist among primaries for the last 20 years. The book opens with Rache's discovery of a dead body in the sea near ringsol six (his research station). The dead woman's pastoral relatives are far away, and the nearest pastorals take the body away in a hurry. But not before Rache and his colleagues have taken genetic samples that show that this woman had illegal adaptations. Someone tries to erase this data, inadvertently bringing down the computer that keeps ringsol six running and causing a number of deaths. Among the dead is Adam de Courcy, and his two children, Cybele and Karel, spend the rest of the book dealing with his death. Rache is now trying to discover what he can about the illegal adaptations, which brings him into confrontation with many people and events from his pastoral past. The situation is further complicated by the arrival of Teal Blane Berenice, a computer expert and twin sister to Juniper Blane Berenice. Juniper died on Blueheart many years ago; she was Rache's lover, and secretly involved in the illegal adaptations. Now Teal is trying to discover the truth, and she too comes under attack for it.
Blueheart has a large cast of characters, but Sinclair wisely uses Rache as a central character to keep everything straight. He knows most of the primary scientists from his current career; he also knows the key pastoral players from his past. Amusingly, Rache even wonders at one point why he is so important to the unfolding events. His answer: "'I chose to live in, and be of, both worlds. And I am. I have tried to make a strength of it, and I believe I have. And my other assets are the people I know. I know all the people who are at the heart of this'" (314). Sinclair sets up the problem of the book as a lack of understanding between two groups of people, and Rache as the bridge between the two worlds. Some are willing to compromise, but the ongoing intransigence of others, like the villainous director of the Adaptation Oversight Committee (AOC) Cesar Kamehameha, force things into a confrontation. The sections where people debate the best ways of resolving conflict are most reminiscent of A Door Into Ocean.
I said that Blueheart has one flaw, one that it shares with Legacies. Both books have trouble carrying the reader along moment by moment with the leaps of motivation and reasoning made by the characters. In Blueheart, this problem is more focused in the dialogue. I find that Sinclair tends to over-determine the meaning of what the characters say. Most people simply don't speak in such dense bursts of cogitation (obviously the opposite problem, of meaningless dialogue, would be worse). The only author with a similar writing style that comes to mind is Frank Herbert, but his Dune series at least had the excuse of portraying humans with super-advanced mind powers. Sinclair also tends to over-describe the dialogue in the surrounding exposition, which led to many moments where my impression of the spoken words was different than the impression as explained by Sinclair. This problem made for some hard going, as the book's pace slowed and my understanding of the events was constantly jarred.
I'll close by saying that Blueheart is rigorous in its examination of the surveillance society. Sinclair integrates the idea of the public camera into the book quite tightly, as well as notions of private spheres, "black" zones, and public access. It lends an interesting feel to the book, and like most of Sinclair's ideas, it is all conveyed in the course of the story. Smooth exposition can be a problem for a science fiction book with lots to say, and Blueheart is a model of lucidity in this regard.
Last modified: November 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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