Molly Gloss,
The Dazzle of Day
(Tor, 1997)

Molly Gloss, an American mainstream fiction writer, turns to 22nd century SF to tell a familiar story -- about a multigenerational starship reaching its destination in a distant solar system -- in a narrative that dares to take its pace and shape from the mind-set of its characters.

The 175-year voyage of the Dusty Miller is initiated by Quakers who establish a shipboard society based on Quaker principles of government by consensus. Freed from outside pressures, these pilgrims and their descendants create a gentle utopia in which thriftiness, cooperation and ecological awareness are seen as necessary for survival.

Understandably, some ship dwellers fear that this good life -- a Quaker dream come true -- may not be transferable to the new planet with its barely hospitable, cold and barren environment. However, the spaceship is deteriorating, forcing a decision: to land or not to land?

Gloss gives equal weight to the practical and the moral dimensions of the dilemma. By recounting events from multiple viewpoints and taking time to explore the social impact of individual actions, the author mirrors the unhurried deliberations of a Quaker Meeting where everyone has a chance to speak and an impasse may be broken by "leadings" from unexpected quarters. Gloss's Quakers are hardly saints, but their dogged belief that it is possible to survive by doing the right thing receives a spirited defense in this work of speculative fiction.

The Dazzle of Day is a carefully conceived, deeply affecting novel. Gloss skillfully evokes the family saga in relatively few pages, investing her story with an abundance of detail, expressed in rich language, that brings people and places, crops and crises, generational ship tech and maintenance, to life. This is a novel of ideas, in the utopian tradition, but every idea finds its way to the reader through one or more characters, (including that rara avis in SF, some feisty and strong mature, even elderly women).

Intelligent and entertaining, albeit leisurely paced, this book demonstrates why Gloss was the recent recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award. This is thoughtful and provocative character driven SF in the Ursula le Guin mode that may not be to the taste of those looking for slam bang escapism.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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