On a far, frozen desert world, Muir the pilot discovers an ancient artefact in the ice. She sees a mermaid at first, but later comes to wonder if it is Ningyo, a fish god from her homeland in Japan. A god that brings misfortune and storm. A god that—by all means possible—should be returned to the sea. The rest of Base Station Un see something else. Bayoumi the lab rat sees Sekhmet the lioness goddess, daughter of the sun god. Partholon the creep finds in its shape a ‘good, old-fashioned cruxifix’. But all of them want to possess it. All of them want it for themselves.
Published by PS Publishing.
A copy of this book was received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Waking in Winter is a science fiction novella by award-winning Australian author, Deborah Biancotti. The story follows Muir, part of a group of explorers on a strange frozen world, which remains unnamed in the story. Muir is a pilot; while flying off course, she discovers a strange artefact buried deep within the ice. She sees a mermaid, but when others from the expedition come and see the artefact, they see different things, including an ancient Egyptian goddess, a lotus flower and a crucifix. Upon seeing it, each of them is instantly possessed by the need to claim it.
There is a sparsity to this story which is utterly perfect for the content, every sentence giving the feeling of being pared back to its bones, reflecting the frozen desert planet that Muir and her comrades are exploring. And with that sparsity comes a tension, a creeping sense of horror that pervades every scene (I’d not quite categorise this as horror myself, but for some, it may come close or hit that mark).
Muir is a compelling protagonist. She’s clearly competent, and just as clearly conflicted and in desperate search for some kind of salvation, even as she knows that such a thing is impossible on such a world. It is very easy to walk beside her as a reader and feel what she does as she explores this strange world and its stranger artefact.
As sparse as the world is, the characters are also sparsely described, with much of their characterisation being revealed through dialogue. Biancotti reveals a rare and deft skill with dialogue in this story, with each character immediately identifiable as soon as they spoke. (Even if listening to Parthelon did want me to make him punch him in the face sometimes. Okay, a lot).
This is the kind of story that’s perfectly suited to novella length. There’s enough detail to ground the reader into the claustrophobic nature of living in the base station, with enough left unsaid to echo the fear of the unknown.
This would be an ideal gateway for someone who’s a fan of cinematic science fiction, but not quite ready to jump into some of the door-stop length space operas, or for someone who’s read a lot of other speculative genres, but little science fiction. And if you haven’t read any Biancotti yet (And if you haven’t, you’re truly missing out), this is a good place to start.
Not convinced yet? There’s an excerpt from the beginning over at Deborah Biancotti’s website. Go and read it.