Carolyn Ives Gilman. The Ice Owl. (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2011)

A story in the same universe as Gilman’s ‘Arkfall’ from F&SF September 2009, which I enthused about, and which was a Nebula nominee.

Checking back on that earlier story, I noted then that ‘Gilman has put together a believable alien planet, a different human society, and believable, complex characters, and spun an adventure tale that almost matches the setting’ and that is exactly the same conclusion I had come to with this story.

Here the setting is the city of ‘Glory to God’, a quite vividly described city of metal based in an enormous crater over which a dome has been built. Living in the bottom tier of the city, and of society, is Thorn, the adolescent female protagonist. There is a depth to the society and the politics of the city in which she lives, and in the bigger universe, which we find out through her relationship with an aged teacher, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.

Stories with an adolescent protagonist tend not to be a favourite of mind, as you get a naive perspective on issues which is great for the author, but for me to be fully rich, the story would have followed one of the adults, and to addresses the challenges they face in the light of their backstory. This is partly covered through the teacher, but only delivered through a monologue relating to his history, which prevents any emotional resonance coming through.

But these are minor issues, as the characters are complex and varied, as are the politics and the society, and I’d have put this forward for a potential Year’s Best collectee, if it wasn’t for the fact that Garden Dozois has announced his collection for next year, and this one -is- in it.

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