The January Dancer

There are a number of authors best known for writing fiction whose non-fiction I generally prefer. Mark Twain is first among them; I’m afraid I’d much rather read Life on the Missippi than Huckleberry Finn. And as it happens, Mike Flynn is another. In the Country of the Blind left me cold; there’s much to like about Eifelheim, but I don’t love it the way many people seem to; but what I really enjoy are his blog posts, which are intelligent, witty, and informative. In fact, I enjoy his blog so much that I truly feel a little bad about not enjoying his books more. It’s like admiring Richard Feynman for his bongo playing.

Consequently, I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed his recent space opera The January Dancer quite a lot. It takes place in the far future, in the other spiral arm of our galaxy. The action of the book concerns a search by numerous folks for a Maguffin called the Dancer, a red brick-like object that has the tendency to change its shape when you’re not looking. Both the action and the characters are interesting and memorable; but what I really enjoyed was the back story: what does this far-future milieu look like, and how did it get to be the way that it is?

Flynn has created a world in which engineering is simply a tool, and science is only a memory. The basic technologies of daily life (including space flight) are retained and passed down from generation to generation, but no new research is done. The people of the Spiral Arm, all of them human, are there because of an event remembers as the Great Cleansing, when the settlers of Dao Chetty (Tau Ceti?) forcibly removed the people of Earth and possibly other nearby systems from their homes and sent them in colony ships across the Rift. The ships were ethnically mixed in an attempt to destroy all Old Earth ethnicities. In the course of time, Earth itself was resettled by those with little memory of the cultures that had once lived there.

Earth is remembered primarily by the “Terrans,” an underclass who try to remember the lost cultures of Earth, and hope one day to free Earth from the sway of the Old Confederacy based on Dao Chetty. There are Terrans on most worlds; and among themselves they speak an odd and beautifully imagined patois drawn from a dozen Old Earth languages. One of the main characters, the Fudir, is a Terran, and much I enjoyed reading about him.

But this is all background, and I don’t want to tell you much about the plot or the characters. Better you should discover them on your own.

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