Vernor Vinge,
Tatja Grimm's World
(Baen, 1987; Tor, 2006)

Vernor Vinge's debut novel, really a montage of novellas, has been re-released by Tor Books. And while it's always enlightening to explore the early part of a talented author's career, Tatja Grimm's World definitely has the feel of a first book. Don't pick this up expecting to read something of the caliber of Vinge's Hugo Award-winning books A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep. However, while the novel isn't up to the author's current writing standards, it does have a certain imperfect charm.

Tatja Grimm, the central character in this novel, is an intriguing character, first introduced by Vinge in 1968 in a story titled "Grimm's Story." That tale, along with a pair of later Grimm adventures, was reworked into this more comprehensive telling of Tatja's story. The resulting novel hit bookstores in 1987, the too-convenient turns that the storylines sometimes take over the course of the book revealing an author still finding his narrative footing. Certainly, in the four decades since the writing of "Grimm's Story," Vinge has become a considerably more accomplished plotter.

Even the basic notions that underlie Tatja Grimm's World -- a world nearly entirely lacking metals, a world where the publisher of a fantasy magazine is the central purveyor of global culture, a world still dependent upon sailing ships and draft animals -- seems incompletely conceptualized. There always seems to be just enough copper, or iron, to allow for the current adventure to unfold.

I think the quote featured on the front cover of this new edition of Tatja Grimm's World is extremely apropos, not so much for what it says but for what could easily follow on from it: "Vinge has become one of the major voices in modern SF" (Science Fiction Chronicle). One might easily add: "Here's what his work was like before he worked out all the kinks in his technique."

Still, as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states, right from the outset of his career Vinge combined "a feeling for the movement and thrill of humanity's high-tech progress through the Universe, with a sense that individual lives were bleak and often brutish." Indeed, this is not a bad book. It just isn't as accomplished a work as one expects when Vernor Vinge's name graces the cover.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
18 November 2006

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