The 2010 Nebula Award nominees were announced today, including among their number M. K. Hobson’s The Native Star.
I just finished The Native Star, on a friend’s recommendation, and quite liked it. I don’t want to go into the story too much here, to prevent spoilers, but here is my recommendation –
Avoid this if you: prefer male point-of-view characters, dislike a romantic b-plot, prefer optimistic protagonists, are tired to death of steampunk and/or zombies.
However, read The Native Star if you: like a bit of cynicism in your narrative voice, enjoy in-depth world-building including competing schools of magic, want a book about adults instead of teenagers, don’t mind a bit of environmentalism with your zombies and steampunk.
I hesitate, truly, to call this steampunk. But it’s a mid-to-late 1800s historical U.S. AU (alternate universe,) and it deals almost entirely with competing schools of thought about how the world should be run — magic, science, different schools of magic, etc. I think the Big Bad’s revealed [redacted] in the plot to [redacted] makes it steampunkish.
The attitude of the protagonist is one common in this second-wave steamwhatever that I’ve been reading — a scrappy attitude of trying to get by in a economic and social world comprised of systems run by men, for men. I’m thinking of Gail Carriger’s Soulless and it’s sequels, I’m thinking of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Dreadnaught — Dreadnaught in particular.
Is it punk when the stories simply try to take an honest look at what the lives of women might be like in these Victorian AUs? Is it punk, bravado and rebellion, to imagine women in a world engineered for men? Or is it not a punk anger that simmers under the surface of these female protagonists, but a feminist will? None of the protagonists of the books I’ve mentioned complain about their lot in their worlds as women. They are angry about specific things they face, zombies and werewolves and vampires and demons and blood magic, sure. Who wouldn’t be? The characters accept that the world is manifestly unfair, and then set about doing the best they can in it. That determination is remarked upon as unfeminine, unmannerly, and unladylike. And the female protagonist characters by and large respond with a steel-willed anger.
Anyway, check out The Native Star if you think it sounds right for you. And if you want to ponder whether the existence of female determination and anger is enough to be dubbed revolutionary, or “punk,” read the other books I mentioned.