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Heart of Gold
Sharon Shinn
Ace Books, 360 pages

Heart of Gold
Sharon Shinn
Sharon Shinn's previous novels include The Shapechanger's Wife, Wrapt in Crystal, Heart of Gold, and the Samaria Trilogy. She is a 1996 John W. Campbell Award nominee, and winner of the William Crawford Award for Achievement in Fantasy.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Summers at Castle Auburn
SF Site Review: The Alleluia Files
SF Site Review: The Alleluia Files
SF Site Review: Wrapt in Crystal
SF Site Review: Heart of Gold
Sharon Shinn Tribute Site
An Interview with Sharon Shinn

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Heart of Gold is one of those aggravating "science fiction" novels that really isn't science fiction. Although I firmly believe that SF is at it's best when doing social satire, I like my social satire to have at least a perfunctory framework of science underlying it.

And in Heart of Gold, Sharon Shinn doesn't even bother. What planet is it set on? Why is one race blue skinned and the other gold skinned? What do you get if they interbreed -- stripes? No answers. This is just a simplified satire of human society and politics, along the lines of Orwell's Animal Farm.

Nolan Adelpho, an indigo man, is breaking his society's gender barriers by pursuing a career in the city as a medical researcher. Of course his family is simply indulging him for a few years -- everyone knows he will marry the blue-skinned girl he's been betrothed to since age 14, and go back to the countryside to pursue his true calling as a husband.

But life in the city, rubbing shoulders with gulden men and women, has broadened Nolan's horizons and he is no longer certain that marriage is all he wants. When racial tensions explode and Nolan discovers that the lab he works for may be involved in a genocidal plot, Nolan is suddenly forced to decide where his loyalties lie.

The other protagonist in this book is Kitrini Candachi, a high caste indigo woman who was raised among the gold-skinned race. Although repulsed the brutal way that Gulden men treat women in their patriarchal society, she has roots and friends there, and cannot feel truly at home in either land.

I stuck with this book to the end because Shinn is a good writer and succeeded in getting me interested in her characters. Their problems are realistic and their struggles to overcome their own prejudices are convincingly portrayed. And the inevitable romance between the two is well written.

However, I wouldn't call this a ground-breaking book. For one thing, it suffers from the sheltered viewpoint of polite upper class people who can spend long hours agonizing over ethics because they aren't cleaning other people's toilets, worrying about money, or getting beaten up by the police. Further, many details of her plot and background are much too contrived and don't stand up to any examination.

Still, it's an entertaining book, and it has something to say about the pressures that society puts on individuals, and the slow "trickle down" rate of social change.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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