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Tatja Grimm's World
Tor paperback $14.94
review by Duncan lawie
The key to Tatja Grimm's World, as an object, is on the copyright page. It is a classic science fiction fix-up, with the central section first published in 1968 and the third - and largest - part joined to it for a 1969 book publication. The first section, originally published in Asimov's in 1986, must have been an interesting exercise for Vinge in revisiting what was, by then, ancient history for both him and for SF. A brief synopsis would suggest that this is old-fashioned planetary romance, and a very cosy adventure, but Vinge has been cleverer than that.
Each of the interlinked stories turns upon the titular character of Tatja Grimm, a tall youth who appears out of the barbarian interior to join the crew of a barge. Tatja is no ordinary young woman and she joins a most unusual barge. The boat is the massive, mobile publishing house of Tarulle, whose crown jewel is 'Fantasie', a 700-year-old fantasy magazine that, in the growing technological age of the planet, is turning toward science fiction. The idea of an SF magazine that travels the archipelagos of humanity is very seductive, and Vinge delights in it, although the final section grows beyond the idea. There is also a clear pleasure in inventing a binary planet where the sky is the realm of religion but the world is on the point of astronomic discoveries.
Despite the title, Tatja Grimm is never the viewpoint character of this book. Instead, the reader is invited to identify with other characters that have a more normal understanding of the world they live in. As peers of the reader, their gradual realisation that Grimm is vastly more intelligent than they are is disturbing. This approach reshapes the book away from the 'omni-competent man' style of SF, even though Tatja Grimm is just that kind of person. To the rest of us, someone capable of bootstrapping a whole world must appear a god or a monster. This theme is cleverly threaded into what begins as a much lighter tale. The steel in the story is gradually exposed, eventually darkening the whole book to a conclusion more bitter than sweet.
Readers seeking singularity-Vinge will be thoroughly disappointed by this book. Those seeking some of the sources of Vinge's writing style will be better pleased, whilst anyone seeking an interesting example of American SF caught up in the boom and crash of the New Wave will find a lot to enjoy.
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