Shivering World - Kathy Tyers - a review

After enjoying Kathy’s Firebird series, I came back for more and was instantly riveted. Shivering World tells the story of the newly colonised Planet Goddard, where the inhabitants live in craters to escape the biting wind and fight for self-sufficiency at sub-zero temperatures. Dr. Graysha, the sympathetic main character, comes to work for the agricultural department while secretly hoping the colonists’ genetic cult has the means to heal her disability, even though this would be illegal.

It’s a thoroughly constructed world and culture, with lots of fascinating details that add to the whole picture without overdoing anything. Did you know that the 21st century will see the advent of female domination? In Graysha’s time, a little later on, the men have begun to reclaim a tentative equality, and meetings are addressed by saying “Gentlemen and ladies…” The Earth is severely polluted, and the rich and gifted have evacuated to huge habitat stations out in space while trying to make other planets habitable through science. Space flight requires fasting, genetic engineering has all but replaced cosmetic surgery, and peace-seeking people have founded the Church of the Universal Father – a conglomeration of Christianity, Judaism and Islam – although their doctrine has thus become deliberately vague.

This is the backdrop for Graysha’s arrival on Goddard with her pet gribien, which according to descriptions seems to resemble a ferret that sleeps all the time. Political tensions spring up immediately between the various groups on site, not least because Graysha’s mother campaigns elsewhere against the alleged illegal genetic activity of the Lwuite cult. While Graysha tries to comprehend the nature of the colonists’ spirituality, she survives a number of murder attempts as well as a murder accusation.

It goes a lot deeper than that when you read, though. The mechanics of life in the colony – where one solar day is nearly 100 hours long; the simple yet unusual convention for constructing one’s last name from parts of both parents’; the will to survive on this harsh planet; the story of independence on both the personal and the planetary scale. Graysha frees herself from her mother’s dominance, and Goddard colony? Well, I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But it’s a good one.

One reason I found Graysha’s character so endearing was that she has a disability. I’ve often wondered to myself why we don’t see more disabled people as main characters in novels or even in movies, and have been writing something along those lines myself. I guess people are always imperfect. A physical problem just shows it on the outside… but it’s particularly fascinating to see it in a science fiction environment. Even the most advanced technology cannot solve all human problems.

A great writer has struck once more where the iron is hot, leaving plenty of scope for a sequel… and plenty of dramatic images burned into her readers’ minds.


Andrea Graham said...

Sounds like a good find, Grace.

Elliot said...

I agree! Shivering World is a good one. The first specifically "Christian" sf I'd read, and fortunately, it's one of the best examples I've come across.