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The Dazzle of Day
Molly Gloss
Tor Books, 256 pages

The Dazzle of Day
Molly Gloss
Molly Gloss is a Portland, Oregon writer of grand scope. Her 1989 novel Jump-Off Creek was a runner-up for the PEN/Faulkner award, and she recently won a Whiting Writer's Award. She has also published short fiction.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Katharine Mills

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Imagine a world where death by plague or cancer seems "to be distilled from the very air and water," where species become extinct every day, where hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, flood and drought claim thousands of lives.

This is the Earth of the opening pages of The Dazzle of Day, the Earth which a 60-year-old woman named Dolores Negrete will be leaving behind, never to see again. Dolores is part of the Society of Friends, the Quakers, who have seen the Earth's approaching end, and are determined to escape it. They have bought a world-ship, the Dusty Miller, and carefully furnished it with a closed ecosystem in which a few thousand people may live for however many years it may take to reach another habitable world, and try to make something better of human history there.

On the eve of her flight to the orbiting Dusty Miller, Dolores debates whether she will really go. On a long walk through the dry lands of her home, she considers and reconsiders, debating everything from whether she can live in a place where the horizon is only a few kilometres away, to whether she packed the right books. But we never know if she does make that flight, for in the next chapter, we are upon the Dusty Miller, and it is almost a hundred and fifty years later.

It is within reach of a possibly habitable planet, and an exploration team has been sent out. The Dusty Miller is decaying. Its fragile ecosystem is falling apart, a species here, a species there. The people aboard it are also feeling the strain of their long journey, and as they come within sight of the end of their travels, they start to crack -- relationships falling apart, mysterious suicides, quarrels.

If any group could be prepared, by their very nature, to cope with the situation, it is the Quakers. Gentle, sane, reverent of the past but not frightened by technology, their spirituality is woven into the very fabric of their lives. Their Meetings aboard the Dusty Miller address the everyday issues of their lives, but with the everpresent possibility of the sound of the voice of God. Gloss illustrates their kindly respect for their fellow beings with small things -- such as the nest of leaf-cutter ants which attacks their crop trees. The issue is discussed with as much seriousness as the proposed planetary landing, and the solution -- provide them with the fresh prunings from other areas -- is typically sensible and considerate.

Gloss' science is immaculately crafted, but it is not the focus of the book. The Dazzle of Day is about the impact of momentous events on living people. Yet she is not telling a story about individuals -- something which is emphasised by the fact that we never know the end of anyone's particular tale. Instead, we experience the movement of change and time through the members of an evolving group. Her insight into human dynamics and interaction makes this utterly absorbing, and the spirit and intimacy with which she evokes the ship's Quaker culture is marvelous.

Molly Gloss has been compared to Ursula K. Le Guin, and there are certainly similarities. Like Le Guin, Gloss transports us into the ordinary life of people in another place and time, with such a wealth of homely detail that we can almost smell the food cooking and feel the texture of the soil. Here, great occurrences are felt, not only by the pivotal individuals, but by everyone. There are no "little people," no cannon fodder -- even those we glimpse only for a moment are real.

This is the kind of book that lingers in memory; at once harsh and sweet, a poetic celebration of humanity's potential for destruction and creation. We are capable of both, Gloss says -- it is our own choices which will make the difference. The Dazzle of Day begins with hope, and ends with hope, expressed with simple and beautiful language.

Copyright © 1998 Katharine Mills

Katharine Mills collects both cats and books.  Because she does not scoop litterboxes, her husband has limited the number of cats to three.  The books multiply, and the house is gradually becoming overrun with them, scratching and biting, wailing to be let out and generally making nuisances of themselves.


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