by Catherine Wells



347pp/$5.99/November 1997

Mother Grimm
Cover by John Pierre Pargete

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

As with Catherine Wells' earlier novels, Mother Grimm contains a strong ecological message. However, the mood of Mother Grimm is distinctly darker than the "Children of the Earth" series. Twila Grimm lives and works in a biodome located in the American Southwest. One of her earliest memories is of her grandfather being forced to leave the biodome after he has been diagnosed with the CM virus, a strain so vicious that the domizens live in constant fear of contact with any other human being. Relationships are conducted through virtual reality and people wear nondescript habits when they must go out in public to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

When Twila comes into physical contact with other humans, notably Samuel and Jonathan Krell, she takes their presence in stride and even enjoys it, not exactly the sort of reaction one would expect from a person who was raised to fear contact with any other humans aside from their same-gender family. There are other, similar areas where Wells doesn;t seem to do a fantastic job of reconciling her characters' reactions with their surroundings.

For instance, at one point in the novel, Wells briefly includes an anti-abortion argument. Her characters live in a restricted area which does not allow for expansion, either physically or in the way of resources. On one side of the argument, Dr. Samuel Krell argues that the reason for the abortions, using the fetal blood to innoculate the domizens against CM, means the abortions are useful. Besides, he argues, the fetuses aren't human yet anyway. Twila Grimm counters that they are human and resorts to strictly emotional responses and attacks. While Krell's arguments take into account the social situation, Grimm's ignore the equally valid social reasons why abortions should not be performed, especially in a world where permission is needed to procreate.

In the above instance, Samuel Krell is portrayed by Wells as the villain, which is part of Wells's encompassing anti-science and anti-technological argument in, not only Mother Grimm, but also her previous novels. However, while the story in the "Children of the Earth" sequence was able to hold together without seeming to be a Luddite tract, Mother Grimm doesn't work as well. The scientists Wells uses as her antagonists come across as being amoral and devoid of responsibility. Research is their primary purpose and they don't care about any of the people who they must use and/or abuse to perform their studies.

While there may be a place for this sort of anti-advance novel in science fiction (for instance, see Elizabeth Moon's Hugo-nominated Remnant Population, Wells does not successfully pull off the trick. What is a pity is how often pro-conservation novels, like the ones Wells writes, are also anti-technology novels.

Perhaps most disappointing of all in Mother Grimm is the fact that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic. The most interesting character, Twila's grandfather, leaves the biodome in the opening sequence. Although Jonathan Krell and Samuel Krell could be interesting, Wells defeats their characters by depicting the elder Krell as a melodramatic villain and the younger Krell as a vacilating man who is willing to lose everything for what appears to be a case of puppy love.

Before picking up Mother Grimm, I would recommend trying to find Wells's earlier novels in a used bookstore. For the same cost as Mother Grimm you may find a trilogy which is better written and more entertaining.

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