I think I’m falling in love. Wow.
I’ve been looking for A Braided World, which supposedly further-explores that interesting “dark matter plague” concept Kenyon covered in Maximum Ice, but my library doesn’t have it and I can’t find it in any local bookstores (it’s a bit old), so I’m going to have to try and order it from Amazon. But in the meantime I found The Seeds of Time, which I initially wasn’t interested in. Time travel, yawn. But then I started reading, and realized she was using time travel as a substitute for FTL travel — they can’t travel FTL, but they can travel backwards in time to a planet that at some point in the distant past was in the spot currently inhabited by Earth. OK, reticence about time travel cancelled. =)
Then I was uneasy about the very obvious, potentially heavy-handed environmentalist message of the book, set in a world that’s “graying” as the ecosphere collapses due to pollution and UV. It’s a message I agree with, but I don’t feel like getting beaten about the head with it for 400 pages. But again Kenyon surprised me. Though there’s some mention of the stock “street gangs taking over society” cliches (why does it never occur to people that when society collapses, gangs will probably collapse too? They’re just an alternative social organization model, equally dependent on a certain amount of material stability. But I digress — ), she keeps the focus of the story tightly on her protagonist, Clio, and Clio’s friends. Clio is the daughter of a lesbian couple in a society overrun by “the Sickness” — sort of AIDS on crack. This has caused rampant anti-gay hysteria as well as the enactment of some draconian laws; gay people are now preemptively “quarried”, or put into quarantine, never to be seen or heard from again. Shades of interment camps. Clio’s parents were quarried, and she could be quarried too for the simple crime of being related to gay people. Or she could be quarried for the much greater crime of using drugs (another group targeted by the laws), because she’s also one of the few human beings gifted with the ability to Dive through time. She’s close to burnout — something that eventually happens to all Dive pilots — so she uses the drugs to stay frosty. Her ability shields her somewhat, because time-diving may be the only way to save the graying earth; the ships that do the time-trips hope to find alien vegetation that’s capable of surviving in Earth’s nearly-inimical environment. So Dive pilots are desperately needed.
But to layer on the characterization, Clio is involved with Hillis, a gay man in hiding; she helps him by pretending to be his lover, but she actually wants to be his lover, because her rough life has left her emotionally damaged and she tends to hook up with men who are incapable of loving her back. Hillis is involved with Zee, a character who practically embodies race, class, gender, etc. privilege; much of the horror of this society is revealed through his rude awakenings as he discovers that America is no longer he mom-and-apple-pie dream he thought it was. (He was in grad school, is how he missed it up to now. I remember grad school. I understand.)
And all this is set against a hard-SF backdrop of exploring alien planets, Blade-Runner-esque urban dystopic worldbuilding, science-vs.-faith debates, and more. My head spins.
Y’know, if I can just find more hard SF like Kenyon’s, I may have to rethink my distaste for this subgenre. I’m now determined to work my way through her SF, then tackle her science-fantasy series that’s out currently. Can’t wait to see what she does with it.