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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

I recently read The January Dancer, by Michael Flynn (New York: Tor, 2008). It was a good read, but it's not as ground-breaking as Flynn's Eifelheim, in which non-humanoid aliens get stranded on earth in the 1300s, and some of them are converted to Christianity. One symptom that the book is less important is that there is no Wikipedia article about it.

The book is set in the far future, thousands of years from now. There is a chart of part of the galaxy, with a dozen or more star systems, all inhabited, shown, before the story begins. (Terra isn't one of them, although there are Terrans in the book.) The action takes place on more than one of these planets, and in space. Flynn supposes that it is possible to travel faster than light, in a method not fully explained, but involving following certain "highways" in space. The January Dancer of the title is a artifact, apparently roughly the size of a bottle of water, that was discovered on a site of a previous civilization. (In the book, this civilization is "pre-human," and doesn't seem to have been ancestral to humans.) The captain of the boat that found it was named January, and the object changes shape unobtrusively, hence "dancer."

There are two aspects of the book that I'd like to mention. One of them is its structure. The book is mostly a story, told by a scarred man to a harpist. Occasionally we get back to the interaction between the two, and that interaction, and who these two are, are part of the plot, but the book could have been written, I guess, as just a narrative of the story that the scarred man tells.

If you are interested in knowing more about the plot, you can find reviews of the book, for instance herehere, here and here.

The second thing I wish to write about is the treatment of religion, which is not a major theme of this book, but which I always find interesting.

Even though it's the far future, there is some recollection of Christianity. Here's part of a conversation between the scarred man and the harpist:
". . . If there is another side of death, none have come back to tell us of it."
"There is are ancient legends that once, someone did." (p. 178)

and from another conversation: ". . . She had a god who was supposed to be three without being more than one. . . " (321)

On page 392, a group of Terrans, working, are said to be singing a song about bringing in sheaves, which song must be "Bringing in the Sheaves," a gospel song written in the 19th century which has been, I believe, almost forgotten in our own day.

But there are new gods, also mostly forgotten. Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein among them. Newton, for example, is said to control the motion of astronomical objects. (p. 384) An interesting idea!

Thanks for reading.

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