The first two Shelter reviews are already out, although the book won't be published until June.
This is the book that took me fifteen years to write and includes everything but the kitchen sink. It has complicated characters and an even more complicated plot -- plus a happy ending -- so I've been nervous about how reviewers would respond. To my immense gratification, Don D'Ammassa is my ideal reader, interpreting the book exactly the way I've hoped people would:
Most science fiction novels that hope to tackle serious issues -- bioethics, global warming, cloning, cultural clashes, or whatever -- deal at least primarily with one topic and use other issues, if at all, simply as part of the background or to provide a subplot. Susan Palwick's latest is much more ambitious than that, addressing a wide variety of topics at the same time. My previous experience with the author's work, particularly the marvelous and touching Flying in Place, tipped me off in advance that I was going to be introduced to a cast of vividly conceived characters, and I wasn't disappointed. If anything there was too many of them, and I wanted to know more about each of their lives. The characters include a sort of artificial intelligence -- a dead man translated into electronic life, a homeless man whose memories have been erased because he tried to help a child, a woman who disappeared for five years, and another who finds herself sucked into this woman's orbit. There's also a sentient house, a much more benevolent one than in Dean R. Koontz's Demon Seed. And part of the story evolves because the house offers shelter to a homeless man, which it should not have been able to do.Publisher's Weekly, alas, was far less kind, calling the novel "sprawling" and "inflated," the characters "stereotypical," and concluding that the book will appeal most to younger readers.
This is, I suppose, a mild dystopia, but it's more about the terrible things we sometimes do to ourselves and others rather than what is imposed on us by a cold and distant government. And it has an upbeat ending, although not because the rebels assassinate an evil dictator and bring about democratic reforms but because the characters discover some of the flaws in their own personalities, the reasons why they have been less than kind to one another, and move past that to a different kind of relationship. Proof, if we needed it, that a novel can be an intense, gripping experience even if it isn't filled with derring do, scientific marvels, and a cast of larger than life characters. This one's likely to be an award contender next year, although the low key cover seems aimed at a non-genre audience.
Gary's been predicting that this book will polarize reviewers the same way "GI Jesus" does. And he's right; the polarization's happening already!
For whatever it's worth, my assessment is that the book went over the PW reviewer's head, although I've also been aware for a long time that this is likely to be the case for a fair number of readers (especially those who attempt to read it as a conventional SF thriller, which it most definitely isn't). I don't think "younger readers" will have the foggiest idea what to make of it; the PW reviewer didn't, either.
Thank you, Don D'Ammassa! Now I know that it's possible for people to read the book as I hoped it would be read, and that means the world to me.