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Dreaming in Smoke
Tricia Sullivan
Bantam Spectra Books, 401 pages

Dreaming in Smoke
Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan is also the author of Lethe and Someone to Watch Over Me. She is twenty-nine and lives in London.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Someone to Watch Over Me
Review: Lethe
Review: Lethe

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Tricia Sullivan's earlier novel, Someone to Watch Over Me was a good, if somewhat by-the-numbers, cyberpunk novel. With Dreaming in Smoke, a lost colony story set on a planet with an extremely hostile environment, Sullivan takes another step forward in both ambition and technique. Too much more of this and it will be hard to leave her name off the list of best sf writers working today.

When the probes found T'nane, they sent back word of a temperate planet with an oxygen atmosphere. Fifty years later, the first colonists found no oxygen, the ice caps melted to a worldwide ocean, and almost constant volcanic activity. They had real problems.

Kalypso Deed is a member of the first generation raised on the new planet. Her elders are pre-occupied with solving what they term the Oxygen Problem. Kalypso and her peers have their lives planned out for them in the name of survival, and Kalypso is expected to be the most brilliant mind of her generation. She rebels by refusing to learn and becomes so good at playing dumb that she and almost everyone else believes it. Her only talents seem to be a proficiency for communicating through virtual reality with Ganesh, the colony's artificial intelligence, and a knack for mixing drinks.

It is when Kalypso is acting as a guide in cyberspace for Azamat Marcsson, a scientist studying the strange, pseudo-ecology of T'nane, that the problems begin. Ganesh crashes, jeopardizing the entire colony. Kalypso is blamed, and eventually finds herself out in the open, kidnapped first by one of the Dead, and then by a psychotic Marcsson. The story proceeds quickly as Kalypso is forced to think for the first time in her life.

T'nane is quite possibly the harshest environment that anyone has come up with for human beings to live in since the planet Geta of Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite. In both novels, the characters have a desperate need to understand the environment they live in. In Dreaming In Smoke, it produces an attention to biochemical detail that should satisfy even the most rigorous hard SF fan.

Sullivan's growth as a writer is most evident in Marcsson, the seemingly crazed scientist whose work precipitated the crisis. It is he whose mind is dreaming in smoke, and he talks in poetic imagery, delicately poised between sense and nonsense. Yet there is a purpose to his talk, and clues to what is going on are contained in his otherwise opaque commentaries. It is a mark of Sullivan's growth as a writer that she is able to adapt her style to the needs of the character, and the story.

Although the action threatens to spin out of control near the end, Sullivan eventually pulls it back together by concentrating on the fate of Kalypso. The changes in her are a mirror for the changes that have been forced on the colonists in their struggle to survive. It's the balance between character and action that makes Dreaming in Smoke a first-rate science fiction novel. Tricia Sullivan has proven herself to be a writer well worth reading.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis. He is looking forward to attending his first Worldcon in Baltimore.


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