by Joan D. Vinge
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
World's End is Joan D. Vinge's first, and lesser known, sequel to her Hugo Award winning novel The Snow Queen. In World's End, the police officer, BZ Gundhalinu, has put his adventures on Tiamat behind him while living and working on Foursgate. Gundhalinu's brothers visit him to let him know they have lost their family estate and honor and are going to World's End, a badlands which has a tendency to drive men crazy. Eventually, Gundhalinu decides to go in search of his older brothers.
Vinge follows Gundhalinu as he travels into the wasteland called World's End with Ang and Spadrin. The former a prospector who needs a guard and a mechanic to help him recover a mineral find he made years earlier, the latter a career criminal who turns his sadistic mind towards tormenting Gundhalinu. As the party gets deeper and deeper into World's End, it becomes clear that there is something in the region, probably at the legendary Fire Lake, which causes the terrain to alter and people to go mad. In many ways, their journey seems to be one of people on an acid trip.
Although Gundhalinu has left his Tiamat assignment behind him in a way which precludes his returning (there is a time dilation problem), mentally his adventures in The Snow Queen and with Moon, the sybil of Tiamat, are still affecting him as he tries to come to terms with his current life. When Gundhalinu finally does meet another sybil at Fire Lake, he sees her as a manifestation of Moon.
Although World's End has many of the trappings of Science Fiction, it reads more like a fantasy, perhaps understandable given that Vinge's source material for The Snow Queen was the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Although Vinge uses a scientific explanation for the various fantastic elements in her story, those explanations come across as being the pseudo-science that they are rather than an actual description of physical laws.
World's End ends, not so much with a cliffhanger, as it does with a pointer for a third book, which Vinge would write, The Summer Queen. Because the novel opens with a lot of references to the events of The Snow Queen and ends by presaging The Summer Queen, it feels more like a middle novel that it really is. The story of World's End is mostly self-contained, although reading the earlier novel will give World's End more depth than reading it solo will.
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