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North Wind
Gwyneth Jones
Tor Books, 288 pages

North Wind
Gwyneth Jones
Gwyneth Jones is one of the most widely read SF authors from the UK, known best for her wild plots of alien-human relations - as in her Triptree Award-winning White Queen. The sequel to North Wind is Phoenix Café (and is the concluding volume of the trilogy).

ISFDB Bibliography
Phoenix Café Interview
The Literary Criticism of Gwyneth Jones
Another Review of North Wind

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

Hold it. Let me see your registration card; I need to check your prerequisites for this course. I see you haven't read White Queen. That's all right, but if you want to get something from North Wind -- I mean really get something from this -- I'd have to advise you to go back and start at the beginning. Now, I'll go ahead and sign this, but remember what I said.

If you caught up with Jones on White Queen, you're already familiar with post-Aleutian Earth. You've had the chance to become as familiar with these alien visitors as you're going to get. Reading North Wind is really going to bring you no stunning insights into their character or society, because Jones has achieved something rare in these two novels: she has created the "truly alien" alien. Whatever balance Earth ever had is gone and the result is about what you'd expect of humans.

Jones has a way of bringing the reader up to date without layers of heavy exposition. The Aleutians landed; people reacted in typical human ways. Some feared the strange visitors. Some chose to make themselves over in the image of their beloved visitors. Some took an active dislike and more active role in ridding the planet of the threat. Obviously, not a particularly successful role, seeing as the Aleutians are still around, but successful in dividing the world into warring camps.

"Men" are no longer distinguishable simply by their secondary sexual characteristics, but the violent and attack-centered philosophies of their movement. "Women" include males as well as females and focus on a return to power through a more nurturing society. "Halfcastes," such as our hero, Sidney Carton, seek to emulate the Aleutian way of life and fall naturally into the Women's camp. The Men would rather see the aliens dead and any of the Halfcaste "Lootie-lovers" who chose to follow their idols through drastic surgery and subtler behavior changes. Carton is one of the unaltered, but still converted.

When the violence reaches a head, Carton carries away a lone, weak survivor, planning a dangerous cross-country escape that may reunite Bella with the Aleutians or end in death for them both. It is an escape that would be much less difficult if Bella was not constantly contemplating suicide or if Carton was not in love with the alien. And things could be much simpler if the Aleutians were more like us -- male or female, at least.

But nothing is simple in this rivetting tale, least of all motivations. Who is the mysterious Fat Man that Carton reports to? What is the truth about the instantaneous transport device believed to have carried Mankind's greatest martyrs to their doomed invasion of the Aleutian mothership? If Bella is so important to the Aleutians, is there more to her than a weak, isolated librarian?

Whatever the fugitives' fate, the one thing they can count on is to trust no one. Perhaps not even each other.

That's enough. I may have already said too much. Just don't believe everything you read. And start reading North Wind now. Unless you need to fulfill that prerequisite. Don't panic... it will be just as amazing when you get back to it.

Copyright © 1998 Lisa DuMond

Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. She co-authored the 45th anniversary issue cover of MAD Magazine. Previews of her latest, as yet unpublished, novel are available at Hades Online.

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