Book: The Child garden - Livre d'Or — LiveJournal

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Book: The Child garden
Thursday, 04 January 2007 at 11:18 pm

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Author: Geoff Ryman

Details: (c) 1989 Geoff Ryman; Pub St Martin's Press 1990; ISBN 0006510884 (guessing from online tools; it's not marked on the book anywhere I can find)

Verdict: The child garden is profound with flashes of real originality.

Reasons for reading it / How it came into my hands: Birthday present from rysmiel

The Child Garden is an amazingly ambitious book, and one that comes very close to pulling off something mind-blowingly amazing. It's a dystopian future with lots of SF elements, and a coming of age / character novel of the protagonist, Milena, and a love story, and an SF reworking of Dante's Divine Comedy, and if all that wasn't enough, it also gets into mysticism and the meaning of life. None of these elements is badly done, either; it does a whole bunch of very difficult things well. If there's a flaw it's primarily that there's just too many disparate things going on, and for me, it just didn't quite hold together.

That said, tCG is a good SF novel with the complexity and sheer writing quality of a top-flight literary novel, and that's already quite something. It's pretty demanding of the reader too; there are so many ideas and subtleties and allusions and metaphors all over the place, and most of the underlying background is hinted at rather than explained. It also manages not to bury the story in all the cleverness. Milena is a really solid character, not too perfect, but really sympathetic. It's told out of chronological order, which is something that normally puts me off, but in this case the jumping around and flashbacks and witholding critical information about a scene until just the right moment is so well done, so beautifully controlled, that it enhances rather than spoiling the story.

The biggest weakness is the biology. There's a level of detail in the exposition which kills any suspension of disbelief, and which is full of completely misused jargon. I would be perfectly happy to accept for the sake of the story that in the future, humans have been genetically engineered so they can photosynthesize. But explanations of exactly how that genetic engineering is done, and of how photosynthesis works, explanations which make no biological sense, add nothing positive and annoy me a lot. That said, I like the exploration of the idea that medical technology hasn't suddenly become perfect just because it's the future; medical developments have unexpected consequences and sometimes fail altogether. In a similar way, the political explanations are dumb in specific detail, but the general idea that society, even dystopian future society, isn't perfectly stable, is very well explored. I very much appreciated the fact that society changes over time, and there is realistic variation among the characters in how much they go along with the prevailing social and legal norms, beyond the cliched extremes of either total mindless acceptance or outright heroic rebellion.

The theology is somewhat weird, but apart from the closing sequence it's pretty understated, and I suspect some of the weirdness may be a function of the Dante thread anyway. If it were slightly less over-complicated, (and if the biology were more scientific and less techno-babbly) The Child Garden would be comparable with Brave New World. It's certainly very impressive, and there is some really memorable stuff in it.

Whereaboooots: The Pit
Moooood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Tuuuuune: Flogging Molly: Cruel Mistress
Discussion: 4 contributions | Contribute something

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rysmiel: child garden
Date:January 5th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
17 hours after journal entry, 12:14 pm (rysmiel's time)
I see your point about the science, sort-of; in that to me, that's so much not what Child Garden is about that it's not a scale that bothers me. What I love about it - and it is one of the books I love most - is mostly things at the relationship level, Milena and Rolfa are great together; I do not think anyone has done a different sentient species as a class issue that well and that subtly anywhere else, and how Rolfa's ambition and talent does not fit in her background is heart-breakingly perfect, to me. There are also so many smaller-scale things that are just right - Thrawn fits so well onto a shape of relationship-gone-bad that's also not often done so realistically in fiction, and the tiny things like the social consequences of photosynthetic people making eating into a bizarre eccentricity, or the not-very-musical-chap struggling with saying things to the tune of "Teddy Bear's Picnic", just appeal to me mightily.
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livredor: bookies
Date:January 9th, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 03:59 pm (livredor's time)
You're completely right, biology isn't at all what tCG is about. But because it's not what it's about, it shouldn't waste space and bore the reader going into a lot of detail about the biological mechanisms for the social reality it's discussing. The fact that the biology is completely wrong is just an added annoyance.

I definitely did appreciate the relationship between Milena and Rolfa. Milena is so convincingly sixteen, though I suppose in her case her perception that she's the only lesbian in the whole world is almost true! The scene where Rolfa visits Milena again, having been "cured" of her attraction to her, well, I can't say I exactly liked it, but it is absolutely emotionally sound. Also the dynamic between Milena and Mike is very fine; it starts out by setting him up as the butt of jokes, but he quickly develops as a real and sympathetic person, and I was very impressed by the portrait of the lavender marriage.

Also very much with you on the way that the small details are thought out, and that definitely enhances the book. I had intended to put that into my review but I see I didn't really say so in so many words. In fact, rereading my review it sounds a lot more negative than my feelings actually were on reading the book. I enjoyed it a great deal, but I seem to have written more about my quibbles than about everything that was positive about it.
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pointilliste: Svendsen neurons and astrocytes
Date:January 9th, 2007 04:05 am (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 03:05 pm (pointilliste's time)
Hi there. I'm stopping by on the recommendation of usuakari. I've not been keeping up to date with LJ but would like to read more of your adventures in science in the future, so am adding you if that's OK?
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lethargic_man: default
Date:January 9th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 01:42 pm (lethargic_man's time)
For once, I went over my mail archive, and didn't really find anything to add you hadn't already said...
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