Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Gardner Dozois
ibooks, 191 pages

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's SF Magazine. He is an editor of the multi-volume Magic Tales fantasy series with Jack Dann and the Isaac Asimov's... series with Sheila Williams, both from Ace Books.

Asimov's SF Magazine Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Love is...? Real? Feeling? Wanting? Maybe according to John Lennon. According to Gardner Dozois in Strangers, it is a chain of chance happenstance.

What is alien? Scientifically speaking, it is that which cannot produce offspring with Earthlings. Then what is alien love and how can it exist? This is what Dozois seeks to tell us.

Joseph Farber is a graphic artist, rendering the planet Weinunnach to the folks back home on Earth. What he didn't count on was stumbling upon Liraun, a native Cian whom he "falls" in love with. Or is it pushed into love by pulling him away from?

His comrades from Earth are hardly supportive, glaring and slandering his choice of mate. The Earth liaison strictly forbids it. The Cian liaison forbids it unless -- to allow the union of aliens -- Farber changes his karyotype. What could be more incentive than to do the thing people tell him not to?

The science may be a bit dodgy -- forget all you know about immunology and whether Farber would be Farber if it weren't for the DNA that designed his original architecture and that would reject any new architecture which was not itself. But this has become a standard trope in the genre -- a technology that John Varley often played with, among other SF luminaries. Let's let the science geeks debate the specifics. We will trust the Cian to restructure everything and leave it the same, for their genetics expertise has leaped beyond even our future's knowledge.

We're here for the story, a leisurely down-hill on skis bent on certain destruction -- a story rather difficult to summarize without giving the plot and idea away because they lie buried in the rituals and mysteries of the Cian culture. If Farber had known what he needed to about the biology and social customs of the Cian, he might not have consented to a child with Liraun.

The first edition cover of Strangers gave away a little less than the first few paragraphs in the review here while the current edition gives away the whole thematic kit and caboodle, albeit without specifics. This may have been purposeful to cut off troublesome interpretations. Yet gratefully, to arrive at his own conclusions unbiased by the ever-present reminder on the second edition, this reviewer read from the first. Undoubtedly, the inability to summarize the novel may put off the strictly plot-oriented as perhaps they should be.

Dozois has much in common with Keith Roberts' lush descriptive style but parts ways in favor of mapping not only the physical foreign land and culture but also the emotional terrain of a human mind. His work has traditionally settled around a potent image and the requisite feelings associated with it (see especially "A Dream at Noonday"), building emotional landscape as other SF writers build ideas. The timing of the second edition could not have been better as it is likely to impact the tastes of far more genre readers who are preferably more attuned to stylistics than when it was released.

Apart from plot-oriented readers, a few feminists may be turned off. Apparently, two renowned genre feminists read the book with completely opposite reactions. The reviewer's best guess is that two small divisions of this section of society will not enjoy the work at hand: readers not capable of reading past the events to the theme and readers not capable of seeing the larger picture. The first group can't be helped. Two-thirds of humanity cannot abstract concepts and no doubt constitute those well-intentioned who plan and attend book burnings.

The second group is harder to deny their interpretation because no comeuppance is meted out, yet it cannot be within the framework of the tale, biology, and protagonist's position. The best this type of feminist can do is cringe with the protagonist's helplessness as our society cringes when other present-day societies execute "wanton" females. According to the author in an interview, it seems this was the partial intent of Strangers as a feminist work, yet the biology and helplessness of the protagonist makes it less a novel of feminism than one of the blindsiding of lovers due to cultural differences.

This reviewer missed out on reading the work as miscommunication between genders in general, the author's intent (a highly viable and potent interpretation since the divide between genders can feel like two cultures whose ways of thinking cannot communicate: the culture of the bold and brazen vs. the ritualistic and mysterious), but instead the reviewer focused mostly on a more literal interpretation of cultures, dealing with many of the social problems still inherent in the 70s: interracial marriage, anticipations of the changing roles of the male-female relationships post-feminism, and the insurmountable difficulties of not being born into a culture that refuses to deal directly with issues (let alone question those traditions). Of course, Occam's Razor should apply to fiction as well as to science, and the reviewer did seek a singular lens to view it as Dozois' certainly does. But the novel also examines culture, so no one adjustable lens may be possible to view this particular novel.

The novel is superior to the novella. The slow pacing in the novel is believable and consistent whereas the pacing in the novella hits a few bumps, as in the speed with which the protagonist falls in love. This is nothing to fret over (as the reviewer had when considering the two side-by-side) since the work was originally intended to be longer but was compressed for its first publication in the New Dimensions IV anthology.

If the reviewer were to come up with criticism, it would be withholding too much revelation in the first half of the novel. Undoubtedly, guessing the ending with a little biology background and Dozois' ingenious juxtaposition of chapters thirteen and fourteen is a surprise worth waiting for -- guessing the ending spoils nothing, for Dozois continues to throw the reader off the scent with various indirections. It may have added pleasure if we could have heard Liraun's attempts to describe all that was to come, slantly ("Tell all the Truth but tell it slant" -- Emily Dickinson). Some of the best parts of Dune involved shift-telling of information. But then Dozois is not Frank Herbert nor should he try to be. Preference for constant encountering new revelations -- be it character, culture or plot, no matter the manner, no matter how many deceptively blind alleys they lead down -- may just be preferable to those who like to tear small slits in and rattle unopened presents that sit under the Christmas tree for months on end. The end result is the same, but the means are different.

Strangers, the one and only solo novel by Gardner Dozois, is a must for every style-lover and every lover of lovers in the genre. To give a good feel of Dozois' work, here are the better blurbs (this reviewer loves astute sound-bites into what the author most effectively achieves): "honest, painfully felt.... slow accretion of detail... with sudden slashes of insight" [Joe Haldeman], "tangible realness" [James Tiptree], "sensitive observer of human responses and a narrator who cares about the way things are said" [Roger Zelazny], and "masterful command of style and effects" [Starlog]. Unfortunately, these may still feel like blurbs, so you'll have to read for yourself to see what they're referring to. These blurbs also imply a third party who, having a firm grasp of the parts of a story, should be interested in seeing what Dozois can fashion beyond the rudiments of fiction.

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide