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  • TITLE: The Iron Dragon's Daughter
  • AUTHOR: Michael Swanwick
  • AWARDS: Shortlisted WFA, Clark Award

    We could all exist inside a video game, right? Because isn't it about everything being everything, the macrocosm filled with microcosms inside other microcosms? Melanchthon is the all-powerful, mechanically sentient dragon. The Goddess is the Black Stone inside the Spiral Castle . But the Goddess is also your mother non-chalantly flicking a mite named Melanchthon off your collar.

    Everything is anything.

    Forget about the logic, however illogical, of how it all works. You will never know. Nobody knows. Elf-lords think they know. They rule without restraint or boundaries, feared because of their knowledge. For knowledge is power. “Understand that everything is made out of the same component parts,” the Fata Jouissante incarnation says. “The difference between a tree and a troll is one of organization only” (Avon , BCE, ISBN 0688131743, c.1994, p.380). Then pruning a tree and cutting off the arms and legs and genitals of a troll is the same action. Knowing just as easily leads to vile behavior and cynicism.

    And venom turns everything to parody. Insensitivity leads to disconnection from all distinguishment.

    Jane has a childhood like a Dickens character.

    Jane's high school might as well be Bates High, where King's Carrie White attends.

    College is Catcher in the Rye, or Less Than Zero, or any other coming-of-age depressing novel you've ever read.

    Post-graduation is all the roman noir and film noir stewed together into a black tar and gargled.

    Afterwards is being a salesclerk in the mall and taking night classes at the local CC.

    But don't fall prey to the satire. It's directed to the genre, not this or that world. That is the taste, the smell, the feel of skin bruising under your fingers. Ejaculation. Menstruation. Sensation. This is the texture of it all bristling through whatever conceptualization you assign to it. Everything sees everything and changes it by seeing it. The mechanism is not your templar; magic is not the only metaphysics.

    Everything-is-everything is veiled, hidden, lurking, prosaic. It's everything curious, isn't it? Concentrate on the action, the reaction, the use. It is not about hierarchies, conventions, duties, quests. It's about the swamp and the lizards and the razor grass. You have to know that to get out, and getting out is all that's worthwhile doing until you realize you never get out, just change the scenery. Then it becomes acceptance and resignation.

    Sound dour? It doesn't have to be.

    The impression leaving is that this book is possibly flawed by spending too much time trying to satirize the genre of fantasy literature and not enough time establishing a more coherent flooring for the plot. I am not objecting to seemingly-unsupported ponderances, mysterious and unexplained sociology/biology/mythology, purposely-veiled antics and motivations, or the demands of the author to read between the lines or investigate scenes for meaning. I like that in a novel. I like an author who does not insult the intelligence of his readers. I don't even mind a difficult or not very likable protagonist, as I find Jane to be. This novel is either brilliant or mundane. It's probably both, since it seems to allow for the varied perceptions of the reader as an integral part of its familiarity. Anotherwords, there's room for interpretation and evidence that one course is not superior to the other. I may be wrong on this—Swanwick strikes me as a pretty forceful driver with very direct ideas about things.

    Very few books need to be read again and again.

    This is one.


    © copyright 10/07/2005 by Larry Crawford

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