Monday, November 02, 2009

Worth it

Title: The Worthing Saga
Author: Orson Scott Card
Bookmark: I read this months ago. Who knows? Probably a candy wrapper, or grocery receipt, or a child's stolen dreams, or something.

Orson Scott Card doesn't really write books. He crafts worlds. Granted, I've only read the first two books of the Ender series, and there's a good chance that, like Frank Herbert's Dune books, or the Hitchhiker Trilogy, that one will also eventually show the author's boredom with the idea, or burgeoning insanity. But it's still more than just a sci-fi story; he includes little details of the life in that society that you may not think to ask about, but when presented matter-of-factly, and in a way that isn't overt ("oh, and look at this other cool technology! And see how we do things this way, instead of the way things are done in the reader's world??"), it comes across as though you're just peering into that world, and learning from your own casual observations, rather than being spoon-fed the things the author thinks will impress you most and think he's a good writer. Card doesn't prove he can write by trying to impress you--he proves he can write by writing, and damn well at that.

The Worthing Saga is actually a compilation of three earlier works, all in the same universe (I think in the foreword Card mentions that he didn't even think to connect them all in the same universe until after some of it had already been written, but I read it ages ago, so maybe I made that up. It still works.). The Worthing Saga tells of the arrival of two mysterious strangers on the day that a mountain village experiences pain, death, and loss for the first time. Both of the strangers are telepaths with vibrant blue eyes, and tell their story by feeding dreams to a boy in the village, and he writes the stories as they come to him. The man turns out to be Jason Worthing, a name spoken as a god on their world and, it turns out, many others as well. Through the boy's dreams and his conversations with Jason, he learns why Jason brought them pain (or did something else happen? yeah, probably. It's sci-fi, after all), why they needed pain, and what his own purpose in the world might be. We also learn the history of a trans-planetary society, from its roots of a few dozen people, to the seeding of dozens of planets, and up to the day when they all found Pain. At the center of it all is Jason, guiding his people up from a Tool Age to a spacefaring civilization as he skips through time on waves of Somec.

Tales of Capitol is a collection of short stories that sets the stage for the Worthing Chronicles. Each focuses on a different citizen of the city-planet Capitol, and in one case, a colony planet. Somec is a drug which allows people to sleep through years, or decades, prolonging their life indefinitely, but it is rationed according to status. The Empress is awake for only a day every five years. Others may only sleep for a year in ten, but even that is considered a great accomplishment. These stories show how Somec affects peoples lives and the society as a whole, but they also give glimpses into all layers of Capitol society, from the poorest dregs to the Empress herself. And behind it all is Abner Doon. Doon, whose name is that of the devil in the sleepy mountain village of the Worthing Chronicle. Doon, who sent Jason out as a Somec pilot on a colony ship and thereby saved humanity. Doon, whose machinations brought about the fall of the empire in the first place, not to destroy humankind, but to save it from its Somec-addled stagnation. He's a bastard, but he's a magnificent bastard, and though his methods may be questionable, I can't really argue with his reasons--or his results.

Finally, Tales From the Forest of Waters recounts some of what Jason's dreams told his biographer, but with greater detail and, honestly, quite a few changes. Jason explains the discontinuities by pointing out that the stories written by his biographer are the remembered dreams of transmitted memories of generational retellings, and some details may have been lost or addled along the way.

Card didn't just write a universe, he wrote the entire history of a trans-planetary society's rise, fall, death, rebirth, rise, stumble, and recovery. What's more, he does it in a way that gives the broad scope and personal stories at the same time, and manages to not bore me to tears while doing it. Excellent stuff.

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posted by reyn at 9:30 PM


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