Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts By Ida Countess Rathangan, by Ian McDonald

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Lady Ida's visit to Venus was memorialized by the beautiful floral papercuts she made there, but this sensational story reveals the secret of the real purpose of her visit. (13,400 words; Time: 44m)

Rating: ★★★★★, Award-Worthy
Recommended By: SFRevu:5 GDozois:5 RHorton:5 LTilton

"Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts By Ida Countess Rathangan," by (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois), appeared in Old Venus (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Because the details come out a little bit at a time, the central story can be hard to follow (I missed it on the first reading) so I'll summarize it:

Summary: Fifteen years ago, Lady Ida stole the Blue Empress sapphire to keep it away from her spendthrift husband, Patrick, and she let everyone blame her brother Arthur. Now that Patrick has died, Ida has come to Venus to atone. She tracks him across Venus, learning he's had a checkered career, with much that was dishonorable but also much that was noble, and finally finds him on the verge of capture by The vengeful Duke of Yoo. She confesses, but he doesn't blame her--he thinks he's lived a better life than he would have at home. Still needing to atone, she attempts to use the stone to bargain for Arthur's safety, but is never heard from again--finding in death the atonement she could not get in life.

Pro: The story has countless moving pieces that fit together beautifully. Here are a few.

We understand at the end why Lady Ida kept her mission a secret from her lover, princess Latufi. She was deeply ashamed of herself. When she gives Latufi the other twelve papercuts, we know she's not coming back.

In Ida's day, the two things to save were the dogs and the Blue Empress. In her niece's world, it is the family photos and Ida's work.

Each of the people she meets--the Honorary Consul, the Hunter, the Mercenary, the Pligrim, and final Arthur himself--teaches her more about Arthur, and at the end he denies nothing. We learn how he matured and found a purpose. We admire him by the time she finds him. Otherwise we'd see no need for her to atone.

It's fitting that the her last papercut--the thirteenth one that no one ever knew about before--is "the Blue Empress." We don't know, but we can speculate that its value equals that of the stone she stole and lost.

Con: It's an extravagant coincidence that after fifteen years Lady Ida meets Arthur just days before his death.

Misc: The story of the missing sapphire is taken directly from Beau Geste, where the stone is called the "Blue Water."

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Nice summary and analysis of the plot and characters in the pro/con. I want to add that the author did a great job of making the "old Venus" come alive in my mind's eye. The story wove a very interesting travelogue into the plot and I loved "seeing" the flora, fauna, mega-fauna, oceans, archipelagos, jungles, mountains, natives, and the humans from a Victorian-era society (steampunkish).

    1. PS. During a sleep interruption last night it occurred to me that plants which photosynthesize UV (since old Venus is perpetually cloud covered) might not be green. Also, it's not entirely believable the pre-Venus Arthur would do such a deed for Ida, we just don't know that version versus the one we read about later. I suppose those would be my "cons" for the story to pair with my "pros" above.