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The Bridge
Janine Ellen Young
Warner Aspect, 348 pages

Victor Lee
The Bridge
Janine Ellen Young
Janine Ellen Young studied geology before receiving her M.A. in Literature from UCLA. An English teacher at Santa Monica College, she has been lecturing and teaching classes on speculative fiction for twelve years. The Bridge is her second novel; Cinderblock was her first. She is happily married and lives in Santa Monica, California.

ISFDB Bibliography
Building Bridges: an article on the genesis of The Bridge
Library of Chaos

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

In the far reaches of a distant galaxy, circling endlessly through the rings that girdle a nameless gas giant, a race of dragon-like beings dreams of contact with intelligent life beyond their own planetary system. And so a great project is begun. A bridge across space-time is built, and a million tiny craft are launched scattershot into the universe. Each bears greetings and knowledge, meant to build a different kind of bridge -- one of understanding.

A single craft finds a target: Earth. Unfortunately for human beings, the craft's alien makers communicate through the exchange of genetic material, and the craft's message is encoded in a virus. In the Pandemic that follows, billions of people die. Those who remain are divided into two groups: the Pans, who survived the sickness, and whose brains have assimilated the aliens' knowledge so deeply that they're no longer entirely human; and the Tenors, the ten percent of the population who never got sick at all, and have no way of sharing the interstellar vision that both torments and exalts the Pans. Together, these two groups must find a way to rebuild the world, a task hampered by the profound ideological division between Pans and Tenors -- for the Pans share the aliens' desire for contact, and have begun to construct their own starbridge, while the Tenors want to turn away from the stars forever.

In the tradition of first-contact novels like Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End, The Bridge seeks to portray nothing less than the total transformation of the human race, via the catalyst of alien-human interchange. In Young's scenario, the transformation occurs by accident, for the aliens don't realize their viral message is deadly, and don't intend the vast social and psychological changes that result from the Pandemic. Yet without those changes, contact could not take place at all. Young's vision of how this plays out is both interesting and original, enhanced by the powerful connection she makes between the starbridge and that other magnificent bridge, the Brooklyn (whose amazing story she tells in the book's prologue), invoking the grand dreams that drive bridge-building everywhere, on earth and beyond.

Conceptually, the book isn't entirely equal to its ambitious theme. The aliens are fascinating in their physical and mental differences, but their advanced technology doesn't quite add up. And though Young takes pains to develop her large cast of characters, the frequent shifting of viewpoints, as well as the substantial gaps in time that elapse between shifts, has a distancing effect; many of the characters -- including some who are pivotal to the action -- never come to seem quite real. There's also a lack of depth in the portrayal of post-Pandemic society. Young dwells inventively on the shifts in fashion, the arts, and entertainment that are driven by the Pans' altered sensibilities, but there's little discussion of other changes, such as the social impact of a vastly reduced worldwide population, or how the very different Pan mentality might influence politics. The assumption seems to be that on the level of infrastructure, the world comes back together much as it was before -- something that doesn't seem plausible, to this reader at least.

Nevertheless, if not a profound novel, The Bridge is an entertaining one -- an interesting speculation on one possible path of alien-human contact, and an evocative tribute to the human ability to dream.

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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