Mary Rosenblum,
(Tor, 2006)

Among those values that could be termed "traditional" are loyalty -- to family, culture -- and adherence to time-honored roles in relation to gender, age and family expectations. Not surprisingly, change, and those who bring it, make traditionalists uncomfortable. One of the most potent harbingers of change is the stranger, the "other," in response to whom those of a conservative persuasion can easily shade into xenophobia and racism.

Mary Rosenblum's Horizons deals with the challenges, both personal and societal, presented when the populations of Earth and of Earth's orbiting habitats ("platforms") grow apart to the extent they risk mutual perceptions as something foreign or alien.

In the near future, Ahni Huang is a member of an elite Taiwanese family, one steeped in traditional culture. The family seems to cling to antiquity, as shown for example by a reverence for ancient oriental chinaware and house furniture, and for insistence on the traditional formal forms of speech between family members. Nevertheless, the modern world is accommodated -- at least the technological aspects of it. Thus Ahni is a half-twin, having shared her mother's womb with her father's clone. Also, while still an embryo she had computing hardware integrated into her brain; in addition she is a gifted empath.

People on Earth had lived through a recent frightening period termed the Chaos Years. This was a time during which the splicing of genetic material from other species into human DNA was permitted. Now however things have swung in the other direction -- "turn a human being into a gilled water creature with amphibian genes ... and you died. No appeal. No second chance." The World Council is the enforcer. When dealing with such an absolute, and one resting on fear, any misunderstanding can turn to catastrophe. Add to this mix those who wish for reason of their own to muddy the clear waters of reason (by manipulating the human weakness for religious belief for example), and the situation is primed for disaster.

We meet Ahni as she journeys to the platforms on assignment from the family patriarch, her father. Her mission is one rooted in concepts of family loyalty and tradition -- to avenge the death of her half brother killed by another powerful family. However, things are not what they seem. Ahni's apparently straightforward mission, to kill her brother's murderer, soon becomes tangled with Earth's politics and with those of the platforms, of which there are four, each controlled by a different political faction on Earth.

Rosenblum manages in this novel to convey a good "feel" for the future -- it could very well be like this. The cover of Horizons depicts a space habitat orbiting far above the Earth. Interestingly, a description of this particular speculative glimpse of the future may perhaps best be provided from the past pulp tradition of science fiction. In his 1931 story "The Prince of Space," published in Amazing Stories, Jack Williamson wrote:

The City in Space is a cylinder ... roughly five thousand feet in diameter, and about that high. The cylinder whirls constantly, and with such speed that the centrifugal force against the sides equals the force of gravity on the earth. We are self-sustaining as the earth is. We use the power of the sun. ... We grow our own food. We utilize our waste products -- matter here goes through a regular cycle of life and death as on the earth. Men eat food containing carbon, breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide; our plants break up the carbon dioxide, make more foods containing the same carbon, and give off the oxygen for men to breathe again. Our nitrogen, or oxygen and hydrogen, go through similar cycles. The power of the sun is all we need from outside."

Ahni Huang, the young protagonist of Horizons, manages to fight, navigate and negotiate her way around a point in her life where her cultural and personal landscape appears to rupture and tear. Her success in bringing about change, in herself and others, without destroying or cutting free completely from what is of value in tradition, makes for an exhilarating story -- a story that, in the best traditions of genre science fiction, offers good measures of breathlessly paced action, romance and scientific extrapolation and speculation.

by Conor O'Connor
14 April 2007

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