Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's incredible, it brings out the animal in me

Some books have a long and winding path to publication. Pynchon certainly puts some hours into each of his phonebook sized volumes. Few take quite as long as Donald Kingsbury's still unpublished Finger Pointing Solward, started in 1972 and perhaps to be published in 2007. Kingsbury even wrote and published a prequel, called Courtship Rite, to explain the background of one of societies in his unpublished book.

Courtship Rite, which was nominated for a Hugo, is out of print, but is rabidly popular with its fans, as the Amazon reviews demonstrate. You can easily find one on Amazon or you might get lucky nosing around the used bookstores that trade in scifi, usually the mustier ones. The fans claim that the book is even better than Dune in presenting a new and alien human society. That is going a bit far for my taste, but it is certainly a peculiar vision.

The book is set on an arid planet called Geta, which is marginally supportive of human life. Some Earth plants grow, but they often die off. Thanks to genetic differences, most of the native life is inedible and even poisonous to human life. Shipwrecked human survivors turn to genetic engineering and eventually cannibalism to survive. Both become ritualized and part of the new society's religion. The way in which cannibalism is approached divides the ruling cliques and drives some of the plot. Overall, people are ranked by their genetic fitness to survive. If you are low on the, you will be dinner come famine time.

Kingsbury describes his thinking here, where he also brings up another peculiarity, group marriage. Instead of marrying in couples, people marry in groups. There is some logic for survival here, but Kingsbury shows his rather outre views of marriage in the interview. Americans will be surprised to learn that they are unique in following serial monogamy. I guess the rest of the world is really swinging.

Its a good story if a tad too long, but I will certainly be interested in Finger pointing Solward, should it ever find a place on bookstore shelves.

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