(Reviewed by Melanie Hamilton)
What does it mean to call a place home? What are the consequences of commitment?
These are some of the questions raised in the conflict between being alien and feeling the land as home.
A soldier is persuaded to open a textile mill on a planet only accessible through a wormhole–with no guarantee he will be able to go home again. A woman trades away her hard won security and safety in order to serve a planet alien to her alienating her own family. Sisters band together to hold a planet safe when the foreign corporation discovers key resources. These are the stories in Stella Atrium’s Sufferstone, the first in a trilogy narrating the relationships between the planet Dolvia and its inhabitants.
Ms. Atrium wanted to see true science fiction heroines and she has created them here. Rather than a fully kitted outer space opera ablaze with rockets and ray guns, or a fully feminized drama of warrior queens or porcelain physicists, she has blended all the traditional elements into an indigenous culture full of intrigue and compassion. In the best traditions of using the familiar to emphasize the alien, Ms. Atrium has drawn her heroines, in particular, from various world traditions. There are tribes whose women remain veiled while others walk naked, except for the pleasure of being decorated. Still others are gowned and robed. Each of these perspectives creates a revealing filter for the reader. As the best sci-fi does, we are encouraged to think, to consider, to re-evaluate.
Sufferstone addresses the delicate balance between the need of a people to use their resources for trade and improvements and the consequences of imposed transformation and the desire to control those resources at everyone’s expense.
For all the beauty of the landscape, the intrigue of the relationships and the excitement of the outcome, I had a couple of stammers while reading Sufferstone. The first was the use of familiar-sounding names as the main characters’ pet names. I don’t think I would have minded so much if there had been some kind of separation in the convenient glossary (which I didn’t really need! I understood most of the culture-creating language from the context). The other issue turned out to be a kind of blessing.
I wanted the book to be maybe fifty pages longer. Several times I had to stop and read back to get oriented after a scene change. The blessing? If I hadn’t had to do that I might have sat still reading the book in one sitting. As it was, the stammers—which are largely editorial issues, in my opinion—helped the book last, keeping me immersed in Dolvia’s world just a little longer.
I recommend this book to anyone with a taste for meaningful cultures and communities, for beautiful language, for courageous heroines and the men who commit to them.
I give Sufferstone three and a half bookmarks.
(Editor’s note:To learn more about the series, check out Melanie’s review of Strikestone:Book III of the Dolvia Saga )