Glory Season, David Brin

Bantam Spectra, 1993, 772 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-553-56767-5

Some critics say that the difference between literature and the remainder of the “fiction” section is that literature is dedicated to a thoughtful exploration of the human mind. This, they tell us, is why SF will never be anything more than a glorified escapist genre for people who can’t handle the real world.

The appropriate response to these idiots is to pity them, for they are well and truly living in a world of their own.

Any half-decent SF fan already knows the answer to that accusation. But how to tell them that SF is uniquely positioned to examine the real issues that concern the human heart? What tool but SF lets authors examine the relationship between the flesh and the mind? (cyberpunk) The human and his times? (time travel) Man and his environment? (ecological/space stories) The person and the sex? (Gender explorations)

The last category is, to put it bluntly, a pack of troubles. Gender exploration is usually slanted toward feminist fiction (since that’s the underdog) and outright propaganda. Some of it is good (The Maerland Chronicles/In the Mother’s Land, Elisabeth Vonarburg), some of it is stuffy and boring (The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin) and some of it is plainly, embarrassingly bad (Ammonite, Nicola Griffith).

Another addition to the pack is David Brin’s Glory Season.

Now, understand that I like David Brin. His viewpoint is one of boundless technological optimism, which happens to be my favourite philosophy too. Almost everything he writes is thoughtful, inventive, entertaining and utterly readable. Glory Season is a mixed bag, but still upholds most of Brin’s usual qualities.

Glory Season weighs in at nearly 800 pages, and stars Maia, a young woman living on Stratos, a planet long divorced from the human confederation. Stratos’ society is mostly composed of females: Males are the disadvantaged sex. Two “kinds” of females exist on this planet: clones and the more Earth-familiar vars. (At this point, things get a bit complicated and Brin explains them better than myself anyway.)

At the beginning of the book, Maia leaves her home to make her fortune in the world. With her is Leie, her twin-sister. Not quite a var but not really a clone, Maia thinks she can make her fortune on Stratos… And the adventure begins. Maia’s story is intercut with “didactic interludes”, excepts of diaries and works about Stratos’ history. Like the “Ancillary Documentation” in Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap series, these bits are tasty, interesting, and don’t really detract from the flow of the story.

And lest anyone be confused, this is a story. Brin never loses sight of the reason people buy his books: Entertainment. Maia will be participant in gunfights, revolutions, betrayals and the usual gamut of adventure fiction situations. To be fair, this is perhaps the weakest aspect of Glory Season: The fast-paced adventures of Maia are sometimes a bit too fast-paced to sustain interest. A quieter, shorter novel could have been better.

Fortunately, Maia’s an interesting protagonist and her coming-of-age is as fascinating as the society surrounding her. The ending is a bit abrupt, but still wrap most things up. It’s evident that Brin has spent a great deal of time thinking about the issues presented in this novel. Fans won’t be disappointed.

Neither conclusive nor embarrassing, Glory Season is a blend of adventure and extrapolation that’s perhaps not dense enough. Nevertheless, still a solid novel from David Brin.

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