This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
SPSFC Round 1 week 4 gave me the opportunity to check out Between Mountain and Sea, by Louisa Locke.
Between Mountain and Sea is a genuinely moving look at a human diaspora fitted around a coming of age and sins-of-the-father (or in this case great-great grandparent, but also kinda father, really) drama. Some initial difficulty with past and present tense in the prologue was really the only writing issue I spotted here, and it was absolutely minor. From there, we move into a really nice structure of present-day personal adventure with an unfolding distant-past drama in the form of diary entries from a long-gone spacefaring ancestor.
The story takes place on New Eden, continuing our theme of planets humans move to and call “Eden” which – okay, this is only the second one so far and it’s totally fair enough. An all-too-realistic premise of ten Bezosian / Gatesesque / Musky-arse super-rich corporate families and their space-peons forming an armada to escape Earth as it drowns in their excess fuels the plot, along with a gut-wrenching eleventh ship promised to the normies that was absolutely scuttled for parts and left to die in space, or something equally horrible. But there are more stories in the Caelestis Series (and / or the Paradisi Chronicles), so there is definitely more to learn here.
Upon this ugly foundation, a literal and allegorical New World is built, complete with oppressed and victimised natives, destroyed cultures, colonisers and a dynamic between sentients, sapients and the natural world that was extremely compelling and at the same time very uncomfortable to read. I enjoyed the Welsh-leaning ddaeran language and – despite some initial hesitancy – the Chinese and Hakka cultural background of the coloniser characters.
But most important of all was the story of Mei Lin and her struggle to reconcile her past, her parents’ expectations, and her own feelings and desires. Within five minutes I wanted Mei Lin to murder her parents and become a meddalwyn herder. It was so enjoyable to read her journey, and if I can relate to this character I think it’s safe to say anyone can. There are twists and revelations aplenty, but I won’t spoil them here – except to say there’s so much satisfaction in seeing Mei Lin’s shitty parents getting hoist on their own “respect your shitty parents” petard by Mei Lin’s grandparents and great-grandmother, I can’t even tell you.
The story as a whole seemed like a none-too-thinly-veiled criticism of un-empathic people, for the empathic and people who consider themselves empathic alike to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. So much so, I will even excuse Locke for cheekily working a reference to her own series of San Francisco mysteries into the narrative.
You’d be forgiven for being confused over the naming of the series, since the worldbuilding seems to have been made in a group workshop situation and is shared between several authors and story-streams. This “open source” setting is really interesting although it also left me a little bit at a loss as to how (if at all) I should credit or criticise Locke for her creative efforts. I concluded, ultimately, that all fiction worldbuilding is dependent on the author’s read, viewed and lived experiences, and this is really nothing more than a facet of that truth. It’s all good.
No sex in this one, unless you count references to marriages and parentage and genealogies to be sexy. And I don’t. And this is my sex-o-meter and my review. So I’m giving this book one coquettishly winking and provocatively sheared meddalwyn out of a possible Shore Up The Genetic Diversity Of The Species Post-Planetfall Ten Ship Boink-a-thon.
No gore either, really, because this wasn’t that sort of story. Zero flesh-gobbets out of a possible five, and that’s alright.
WTF aplenty in this story, but again it wasn’t really the point of the story, so much as a lovely sensation of added depth to what is clearly a lovingly realised and shared world. Military scientists working on Tenebra, you say? Tantalising. The rule about not using the wormhole was instantly suspicious and fascinating, but not fully explored. The other nine settler ships and their respective cultures obviously weren’t Locke’s to mess with, and that left us with a cleverly isolated and tribal feeling to the Yu-family-based cultural slice of New Eden. Absolutely great. I’ll take that coquettishly winking and provocatively sheared meddalwyn from the sex-o-meter and give Between Mountain and Sea that out of a possible same but with a hen ddynion sitting on its back, wearing a saucy hat.
My Final Verdict
This was an excellent story. Screw it, I’ll give it five stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. No notes. You know, aside from all the notes *gestures vaguely at the wall of text above*. Really interesting and enjoyable read, good job and thank you!