The Moon and the Sun, Vonda N. McIntyre

Pocket, 1997, 421 pages, C$31.00 hc, ISBN 0-671-56765-9

I’m mad, and I’m going to tell you about it.

A few months ago, members of Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) decided that The Moon and the Sun was the best Science-Fiction or Fantasy novel published during the preceding year, beating out such contestants as A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin), Ancient Shores (Jack McDevitt), Bellwether, (Connie Willis), City on Fire, (Walter Jon Williams), King’s Dragon, (Kate Elliott) and Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold).

Leaving alone the issue that these were most definitely not the worthiest books published in the oh-so-confusing Nebula period of eligibility (which here seems to go at least from April 1997 to September 1998), was The Moon and the Sun the best of the seven books? Of course not. Let me tell you why.

The Moon and the Sun is the story of a young woman in King Louis XIV’s court in 1693. Her brother has captured a sea monster, and various royal things happen around her. Eventually, she figures out that the sea monster is intelligent. Of course, she’ll try to free it.

I have seldom had as less motivation to read a book. It takes almost half the book to get out of the historical details and get on with the “fantasy” element. Despite a certain elegance of the prose, this novel is a colossal bore. If this hadn’t been a Nebula-Winner, I would have likely abandoned it well before the end. McIntyre mentions in her after-word that this has also been written as a movie screenplay: I would have rather read that than the book.

The overemphasis on explicit feminism is annoying. The problem isn’t with the idea of feminism, but the treatment. McIntyre should have remembered to show, not tell. Far better to keep the heroine trying to acquire freedom and go against obstacles rather than make a few speeches about it. It’s ridiculous to see concerns of the nineteen-nineties clash with the historical atmosphere in this way.

Then we come to the difficult question of the genre. The Moon and the Sun is a novel billed as an alternate history that won an award by and association originally founded by Science-Fiction writers. Problem is, it’s neither SF nor alternate history.

There is nothing “alternate” about the history presented here: What are the repercussions of the sea monsters? The divergences with our history? Unseen, untouched, unimagined. This is historical fantasy.

Then there’s the astonishingly positive advance blurbs on the back cover of the book, by author friends of McIntyre who should know better. “The finest alternate history ever” (Le Guin), “One of the best novels I’ve read” (Preuss), “engrossing story” (Gabaldon)… ack, ptui! Even granted that I don’t even like these authors, what were they smoking?

In a sense, you could say that it’s fortunate that The Moon and the Sun won the Nebula: Otherwise I would not have read, or finished, the book and would not have anything to complain about. It still doesn’t erase the boredom and the pain.

The Nebulas have a substantial history of choosing The Wrong Book as a winner; boring, stuffy fantasy novels that are neither remarkable or especially meritorious. Years later, who still remembers the unspectacular Where the Late Birds Sang (Kate Wilhem) or the incredibly boring The Falling Woman (Pat Murphy) or the rotten The Einstein Intersection (Samuel Delany)? I confidently predict that The Moon and the Sun is headed straight for this memory abyss. The infuriating thing is that the novel will bore generations of Nebula completists. Forever and ever.

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