Review: The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss
This is my Favorite Science Fiction Novel, no contest, but it’s an odd creation. It’s like a historical fiction about a Quaker farming community, except that the community exists inside a multi-generational colony ship many centuries into a journey to a possible habitable world in a distant solar system. Oh, and each chapter begins with poetry by Walt Whitman!
Fans of historical fiction, Quakerism, or Whitman will have no problem enjoying this novel, so I’m going to address this review primarily to science fiction lovers.
My fellow geeks: You’re going to love this book, if you can get through it! What might stop you is the density of detail about the daily, earthy lives (both physical and emotional) of the colonists. For long stretches, this book won’t feel like science fiction at all, but if you hang in there, the sci-fi elements will come, and they’ll be all the more powerful in the end for springing from the rich soil Gloss cultivates for them.
The first of them occurs when one of the characters goes outside the ship to perform the routine task of mending small tangles and tears in the ship’s solar sails. Gloss handles this, and all the subsequent scenes on the sails, beautifully.
The second sci-fi element comes later in the book when a scouting party makes a landing on the first potentially habitable planet the colony ship encounters. It’s a bleak world still coming out of an ice age, and its harshness is magnified by contrast with the enclosed conditions inside the colony ship. In Gloss’s hands, the scouting party’s brief trek across this landscape becomes one of the most uncomfortable vicarious sci-fi journeys I’ve ever taken. (Not because the terrain is more inhospitable than any other sci-fi terrain – it’s not actually an exceptionally harsh terrestrial environment – but because of Gloss’ exceptional power of vivid description and her brilliant use of an injured crew member to magnify the party’s misery.)
The final sci-fi scene is what raises this novel to the level of greatness: the briefest of glimpses into the civilization eventually founded by the colonists, a couple of centuries (?) after the events in the main section of the book. It’s a remarkable vision: as shimmering and cold as light on a glacier, as buoyant and unforgiving as the sea. They are totally unlike their forbearers, and yet, they are clearly their descendants – our descendants: a branch of the human tree planted on the rocky, windswept shore of the Future.
The Dazzle of Day