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Kingdom of Cages
Sarah Zettel
Warner Aspect Books, 588 pages


Art: Michael Whelan
Kingdom of Cages
Sarah Zettel
Sarah Zettel was born in California in 1966. She has been writing for more that 14 years now. With several published novels in hand and her short fiction published in Analog, she's found herself with a host of fans and critics alike singing the praises of her work. Currently, she lives in Michigan with her husband Tim.

Sarah Zettel Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Playing God
SF Site Review: Fool's War

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Over the years, colonists from Earth, The Called, have spread across many worlds, trying to recreate the life they had on Old Earth. Unfortunately all planets, save one, Pandora, have fallen victim to plagues and disasters, a circumstance that has been named the Diversity Crisis. All eyes turn to that one successfully colonized planet for answers and refuge, both of which the Pandoran Government refuse, until the Authority force their hand. Now the Pandorans, with their hard-line ecological rules, must find a cure for the crisis.

A few years later, they find the key. Her name is Helice Trust, and she has come to Pandora with her daughters Chena and Teal in search of a better life. She is a perfect candidate to help the Pandoran experimenters with their Eden Project. They want her to have a baby for them, something she refuses to do. Two leaders in the Pandoran government will fight over them. One is Tam, who loves his people, Pandoran and refugee alike, and his sister Dionte, who feels that the future of Pandora for Pandorans is worth any price. Eventually Helice is forced to give into Dionte's demands, and the results are tragic. Chena and Teal have to make their way in a world that can turn cruel at any moment, for the Pandorans have engineered it so that the very wildlife can turn against those it considers invaders.

The mains strength of Kingdom of Cages is in the inventiveness of the culture. The hothousers, or the Pandorans, live in biospheres and try to interact as little as possible with the land itself, for fear of contaminating it. The little villages where the refugees live are surrounded by electric fields to keep anyone from trespassing in the sacredly held wilderness. The Pandorans all have implants called their "Conscious" and they are monitored carefully by the City Mind, an artificial intelligence that sees and hears everything that goes on within -- and without -- the walls of the city. The world is very strict, where the Conscious emotionally controls the actions of the people, gelding their thoughts in many ways. Dionte and Tam are the only ones whose conscious is stunted, in order that they can think without the restraints this device puts on the rest of their family. Their rooms have no doors, everything is very open, yet stifling. In the settlements, the people live in fear of breaking any of the harshly enforced laws, which include going to the local herbalist for cures (antibiotics and antivirals are illegal, as they may hurt the environment) or going into the rag bin to get some clothes. If the law is broken enough, then that person loses their body right, and can be taken by the hothousers for experimentation. It is an interesting world view that Sarah Zettel provides for us. All the worlds except the intensely restrictive Pandora have failed, yet in these people's desire to keep the world safe, they have lost their humanity.

As we contrast these two extremes, we see that there must be a middle ground. While a world should be taken care of, it can't be at the expense of the people upon it. What's it worth that the planet is preserved, if the people upon it are miserable? There's also a "You can't go home again" theme. While these people all vainly tried to remake Earth, the only ones who managed to keep their planet intact were those who decided to take what the planet was willing to give. We can apply these lessons to our own world, and what we see when we contrast the Earth we live in with Zettel's vision is not comforting.

These questions, and the world Zettel creates, makes for a wonderful read. The characters are all well drawn, although sometimes the exchanges between people, particularly between the two sisters, are a bit aggravating. Not a bad thing; it means that she creates people we care for, and hate to see such friction between. The fact I would have gladly slapped Teal quite a few times is a sign of excellent writing. At least in this case.

Sarah Zettel has been growing into an original and established voice in this field, and if the inventiveness of this book is any indicator, she will continue to do so for quite awhile.

Copyright © 2002 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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