Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sunwake, in the Lands of Teeth, by Juliette Wade

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(SF) Liaison Rulii must travel into a war zone to find a missing human linguist whom his king wants to meet in just three days. (21,736 words; Time: 1h:12m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Sophisticated, Entertaining, Moving

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 127, published on .

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

Background: The dog-like natives on Arrus are divided between the larger Aurrel and the smaller Hnnwan (barbarians). The Aurrel are subdivided between the Heavy-furred rulers from the north and the short-haired serfs, and the physically smaller barbarians.

“Colder” means more formal and more dignified. Cold language is how superiors speak to inferiors. The cold language involves a certain amount of howling, which is symbolized by repeating the first syllable of names and other words. E.g. Ru-rulii.

Rulii is a rare successful short-hair, but he serves at the King’s pleasure. The war between the Aurrel and the barbarians has been ongoing for many years, with the short-hairs taking most of the casualties. There has been a sort of peace since the arrival of the humans, and the King doesn’t like that, since the war threat is a big part of how he keeps control of the short-hairs.

Pro: The strength of this story is the characters, who are clearly depicted, sympathetic, and easily distinguished from each other. Each character has his/her own objectives:

Rulii wants to use his influence with humans benefit his people. He’s a good-hearted person, as witness the efforts he goes to to save young Dazh, who turns up on his door dying. By the end, he’s won freedom from the heavy-furs, he’s renewed his friendship with Parker, and he’s found a former friend long believed dead.

Parker wants humans to treat with the Hnnwan, not just the Aurrel. After great risk, he gets what he wants.

The Nose wants an end to the war and she wants her people to have a fair share of whatever technology the humans are bringing. She earns that by supporting Rulii and Parker.
Dazh just wants to be a hero. By going to get help after he’s kicked out of the meeting with the king, Dazh gets his wish.

The representation of the alien languages works very well and adds a great deal to the feeling that these creatures actually are alien.

Con: The pieces don’t quite fit. No one ever asks Dazh how he got injured. His story seems entirely unrelated to everyone else’s. There’s been no hint that the short-hairs are ready for revolution. Dazh himself was all eager to go to war for the Majesty just pages before he betrays him. Parker is supposedly in trouble for calling for a shuttle to evacuate him, but earlier in the story, Rizvi suggested it herself.

The Nose is too quick to resort to violence when her initial discussion with Parker doesn’t go the way she wants it to. It's quite a jump from bragging about your glassware to threatening the human envoy!

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. This was extremely enjoyable, with an excellent portrayal of alien cultures.
    In some ways it felt like a heroic fantasy, with a fast pace and quick changes of direction.

  2. Pretty cool culture since it was alien yet relatable by being modeled on dogs.

  3. This is a very good story. This is a 5 for me.

    The way I read it, Dazh's injury is not important to the story. It would have helped if the reader was given some idea of how it happened, but it is not important.

    The story is told from the point of view of Rulii. From what is implied at the start, he does not have much to do with his own people these days, so he wouldn't know what his own people were thinking. Dazh does know that there is discontent, as he comes from there.

    Dazh does want to be a solider, he just suddenly realizes he has the option to fight for his own side, which is far more preferable. Dazh thinks "on his feet". He has shown the reader he can do this, just by making it to Rulii's home while badly injured at the start of the story.

    As for the shuttle, Rulii objected to it on the grounds it would alert the enemy as to where they are. By the time Parker called the shuttle, the enemy had already spotted them, so their presence was already known by then. Parker was not ranked to call a shuttle, but Rizvi was going to ask an officer for permission. I assume "life and death situations" are exempt from this requirement.

    The Nose (like Dazh) was quick to grab it when an an opportunity presented itself. There could be a very strong reason why the ruler is called The Nose.

    It all adds up as far as I am concerned. As Laura says "alien but relatable by being modeled on dogs"

    Juliette Wade can do excellent genre fiction. I knew that when I read the very moving and very beautiful "Lady Sakura's Letters", and this is another fine example of it.