melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2017-04-28 08:28 pm
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FMK: The Snow Queen

So, it turns out The Snow Queen is not high fantasy and is a fairy tale AU. Oops.

About the only other things I knew going in was that I had really liked Vinge's Cat books (not actually books about cats, books about a dude named Cat, sorry), that she had at one point been married to Vernor Vinge, and that I was pretty sure that years ago I had heard a rumor that her husband was a total POS.

...turns out that I was unable to find anyone saying anything bad about Mr. Vinge, but her current husband is Mr. Banned-From-Wiscon himself, so apparently I have been thinking poorly of Mr. Vinge for years for no reason. Sorry, sir! See, this is why this stuff needs to be out in the open, not whispers.

Anyway, as for the book itself: it's well-written, I didn't hate any of the characters, the world-building and plot mostly hang together (at least until the very end, anyway), the concepts are interesting, there is no compelling reason I shouldn't have liked it, and yet I never quite managed to get into it. It isn't even that it's not my thing, because it *should* be my thing,

I was thinking for much of the time I was reading it that I would have to just go all "I do not like thee, Doctor Fell" on it, but once I finished, which made some of her choices clearer, and then thought about it ,and went and re-read a summary of the fairy tale, I think I have figured out some of it, and I think a lot of it's down to the way she used the fairy tale.

So to start with, Snow Queen is not one of the stories that's part of my internal landscape: it wasn't one of the fairy tales I had access to when I was wee, and when I got old enough that I started seeking them on my own, I was all about the Real Folktales Collected From Real Folk By Real 19th Century Aristocrats, not that made-up Victorian moralism nursery story stuff, so I never read Andersen. I got over that eventually too (mostly) but even when I later read it in the Pink Fairy Book (that's probably where I read it, anyway: I had to make an exception for Lang because of the Ordinary Princess) The Snow Queen never really made an impression on me.

And it feels like the bits Vinge took from it are the bits that interested me the least, without really adding anything to it or taking it much farther?

Like: how Sparks starts hanging out with the Snow Queen and then suddenly goes evil and then meets Moon again and just as suddenly goes un-evil and everything is okay because love conquers all despite the fact that the first thing he does when he meets her again is beat her up twice? Yeah. What sort-of works in a fairy-tale doesn't work in a massive long novel by someone who is clearly good at characterization when she *isn't* trying to be Andersen. It might've even worked if she'd gone into the process of his corruption and how he justified it to himself or how abuse and gaslighting traumatized him into sympathizing with his abuser or however she wanted to play it, and how the Snow Queen finally went too far and he started to resist her; but instead we skip over nearly all of the time they were together with time dilation and then he snaps out of it in a complete 180 with no real explanation except LURVVE when Moon reappears. lurve does not make abusive pieces of shit suddenly stop being abusive pieces of shit and they don't become pieces of shit just because the woman was so pretty that they couldn't help themselves, either

she would have written this book about the time when she was divorcing Vinge to marry Banned-From-Wiscon. Hmmm, makes you wonder.

At least the fairy tale used magic to explain the double heel face turn. And was a heck of a lot shorter, so it had that excuse.

Yeah, there's a one-liner about how maybe some of the character change was caused by the Evil Potion he was taking, but it's never followed up on, and there's some lip-service to the idea that he does have a trauma-and-recovery narrative that will be happening, but it should be one of the most important character arcs and it never actually happens on-screen.

Combine that with Moon's character arc mostly being "I will consistently make hideously bad decisions because I LUUURVE him" and the fact that we never actually see them being in like with each other - we meet them when they have a fight and break up because they have fundamentally different values, and they spend the rest of the book alternately pining and mourning - and the effect is that basically the entire character motivation of the two main characters and the main plot driver is "they did it because they are in love because the author said so, and heterosexuality makes you stupid but oh well there's nothing to be done about it except give up all your own happiness and then let them hit you."

Especially given that most of his bad decisions are based on falling helplessly in lust with her identical twin, which I have known plenty of people who were capable of being in love with one of a set of twins and not the other, because, gasp, their relationship was about something other than genotype? - it really doesn't sell me on the main relationship being about anything other than heterosexuality makes you stupid.

And again, if she had shown her work about how deep and true and transforming their love was, it might've still worked for me, but she really never does, because she has to split them up almost immediately and have them maintain a pure and Word-Of-God given devotion throughout.

Meanwhile the Queen's character arc seems to be based on how tragic it is that she has never met a man strong enough to match her because every all-powerful queen just wants a strong man, which, barf. At the very very end when she's about to die there's some really perceptive and powerful backstory on how she became queen and how it traumatized her, which was great, but up until then it's just 'yawn, I'm so bored, I just wish I could find a man strong enough for me.'

It's interesting that this is actually the second Vinge book I've read about Tragic Yet Fated True Love on the Planet of the Whale-Murdering - the other is Dreamfall, the last Cat book. But the love in Dreamfall worked a lot better for me, because even though they had an outright magical soulbond going for them, they still had to work for it and fight for it and come to terms with it and admit that there is growing up and learning each other to be done before it will work in the real world between two real people. Not just an authorial They Are In Love And Therefore I Don't Have To Explain Any Of Their Choices.

I wonder how much of the difference is that she was older and wiser and how much of difference is that she wasn't trying to use the fairy tale.

I think a lot of the rest of the reason I couldn't love it is that there really is very little world-building for Tiamat - which, given that the book is theoretically about Tiamat's culture and ecology, is a problem! But nearly the entire book takes place either offworld or in a city that is dominated by offworlders or on a plantation owned by an offworlder; I think we actually learn more about the home culture of a secondary character who grew up on a planet they never visit than we actually learn about the culture that Moon and Sparks grew up in and are theoretically fighting for. And again, that's at least partly to blame be blamed on the fairy tale, because it requires the entire story to be about a series of episodes far away from home, but on the other hand it certainly *could* have been done.

Also, most of the plot hung together until the end because she's a good enough writer you could believe that it would all eventually make sense, and then.... it didn't, none of the deep-laid plans actually turned out to be deeply-laid or well-planned, it just got a pasted on Happy Ever After based mostly on multiple people being really really bad at their jobs and ignoring stuff that was in front of their faces. I give it at most a week before the mob realizes they don't have to accept Here Is The New Queen Same As The Old Queen and tears apart at least him, if not her.

Anyway, short version: You could probably do a Snow Queen retelling that used the story in a way that worked for me (I should really get my hands on The Raven and the Reindeer) but this was not it; and I would totally read an entire novel about Ngenet and Jerusha (as long as Jerusha got to finally show a tiny bit of minimal competence which she never actually did in the book - a plot line about how she is unfairly treated as incompetent because she's a woman doesn't work if she never actually is competent); and I should have listened to my instincts and run when the summary on the back ended with "...the one man fated to love them both."

...interestingly I also read Makt Myrkranna today (having never read Dracula all the way through) which is also about a pretty, innocent young man who gets lured into the clutches of an ancient powerful beautiful cold devouring woman and her consort, and how his true love traveled across a continent to rescue him and save the world, but somehow I don't have any of the aforementioned complaints about it. A++ worldbuilding, dude does not let heterosexuality make his choices for him, lady makes reasonable choices based on the knowledge she has at the time and caring about him as a human being she is fond of who is in trouble.

I also read Pale Guardian, but I think that's actually the first Ashers book in which nobody ever has to rescue James, so it doesn't quite fit the set.

(eta: no, wait, Simon rescued him at least once in between Simon and Lydia repeatedly rescuing each other, nvm. On a motorbike.)

(I have been sick lying on the couch all day, which is why all the reading suddenly. Also I still have four more library books and two fmk waiting lalala.)

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