Saturday, 3 March 2001

Katharine Kerr & Kate Daniel: Polar City Nightmare (2000)

Edition: Gollancz, 2000
Review number: 773

Unlike Palace, Katharine Kerr's previous collaboration, Polar City Nightmare follows on from her earlier solo novel Polar City Blues. Instead of an entirely new scenario, the background and characters are already in existence. This made it harder to believe the claim at the begging (also made in Palace) that this is an "old-fashioned collaboration" in which both partners play a major part, as opposed to the well known author merely lending her name and a little guidance for a novel based on a well known one of her own, as seems to be increasingly common in the genre.

Polar City Nightmare is in fact a direct sequel to Polar City Blues. The Republic of which the planet Hagar is a part continues its precarious existence as a small state between two enormous superpowers. Once again, a problem arises with one of their embassies, this time when a junior attaché and an irreplaceable cultural relic go missing. Once more Bobbie Lacey reluctantly assists the police investigation with her psychic partner Jack Mulligan. In this novel the stakes are higher; the other major difference is that baseball plays a much larger part.

By being such a novel, Polar City Nightmare reads as though Kerr were sole author, though it does lack something of the spark of its predecessor. That may be due to the part played by the sport, which limits the novel's appeal to one who is not American and is not particularly a lover of any kind of sport. Polar City Nightmare is diminished a little by this, but it remains well written, exciting, and an interesting portrayal of the future.

One interesting point, shared with the earlier novel, is made by Kerr in her introductory note. As she says, in most fiction - and, really, in most Western fiction - it is the intention of the author that, unless explicitly stated, the race of a character should be assumed to be white. Here, the opposite holds, and race relationships are generally a mirror image of late twentieth century America - whites in crime ridden ghettos, black and Hispanic people in most positions of power. That this assumption is made by readers (and that it is expected by authors) is a sad reflection on our culture, and is probably a consequence of an unequal distribution of education and prosperity - more white people have jobs which leave time and energy to read novels. It is effectively the same point made in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and it is a pity that it can still be made. (I suspect that a lack of black TV and film stars of both sexes also contributes to the way that characters in novels are imagined.) I should note that the background to Ursula le Guin's earlier Earthsea novels makes the same assumptions about race as Kerr does here.

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