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Child of Venus
Pamela Sargent
Eos, HarperCollins, 464 pages

Child of Venus
Pamela Sargent
Pamela Sargent was born in 1948 in Ithaca, New York. She attended the State University of New York at Binghamton. She now lives in Albany, New York.

Pamela Sargent Website
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A review by Greg L. Johnson

With Child of Venus, Pamela Sargent has returned to complete the task she began in Venus of Dreams and Venus of Shadows. The novels are a multi-generational family epic chronicling the history of the Venus Project, the terraforming of the second planet from the Sun. As such, these books deserve a place among all the grandly conceived histories of SF.

By the time of Child of Venus, the big dramatic events of terraforming Venus, bombarding the planet with ice asteroids and the construction of the Parasol to shade and cool the planet, are generations in the past. The work now is a slow process of chemical reactions and bacterial seedings that will steadily transform the planet, but it's going to take a long time.

Perhaps this is why the novel itself starts off almost languidly. The story centres on Mahala Liangharad, a young girl descended from some of the main characters in the previous novels. We follow along as Mahala grows up, learning of her family's past roles in the shaping of Venus, and trying to find a place for her own talents in the Project.

But for young adults of Mahala's generation, there is little choice in what they will do in their lives. Venus will not be inhabitable for many generations, and there is a growing dissatisfaction among those who see themselves as having little control over their own future, with no hope of seeing the end of the Project. There is also a rising political tension between the Habbers, who live in space and have aided in terraforming Venus, and the Mukhtars who control all access to wealth and information on Earth. (In what could be read as a tip of the hat to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series, the Habbers oppose terraforming Mars, believing it should be left in its natural state.)

Those two strains of tension take over the story about halfway through the novel. The plot moves away from the nuts and bolts of transforming Venus, and takes on larger concerns. It's interesting here to note the similarities between Sargent's story and the story Octavia E. Butler has been telling in her novels, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. Neither woman is known as a hard-core science fiction writer, yet both have created female characters who see not only hope but a kind of salvation in humanity moving out into space. That is a character trait that has been at the core of many a hard SF novel. Both writers have created characters whose hearts are firmly in the tradition of the literature of the stars. Mahala, like Lauren Olamina, knows herself and longs for the universe.

Child of Venus is not an action story or a suspense story, though it at times has elements of each. It's not a novel about speculative engineering, though it has as its central conceit one of the largest engineering projects human beings could hope to accomplish, and it has enough engineering details to make the Project seem real. The trappings are there, but the story runs counter to the current fondness for large-scale space opera flavoured science fiction. Child of Venus is a novel about human beings trying to understand themselves and their place in the future they envision. This is science fiction that asks us to question ourselves as much as we question the universe. And if that's not one of the main reasons for the existence of science fiction in the first place, I don't know what is.

Copyright © 2001 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson noticed lately that Venus can hardly be seen. It can only mean that the Parasol must be in place. His reviews also appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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