A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published this glowing review of Lidia Yuknavitch’s new novel, The Book of Joan:
I just finished the book, and I wonder if anyone else here has had a go at it. The review characterizes the novel as “a rich, heady concotion, rippling with provocative ideas.”
But to me, has all the punch of one of the lesser French novels, poorly translated into English (in fact, my first reaction was to think that it must in fact have been translated, but it was originally written in English).
Perhaps the problem is that I anticipated science fiction, and the novel is not that (in spite of a good part of its deus being ex machina).
It’s a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc but, in this case, Joan represents the elemental properties of Earth; her opponent, Jean de Men, represents science and technology run amok. Joan has essentially committed a Bến Tre (“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today.”) As a result of her actions, Joan is the sole surviving human who has the capability to reproduce, and de Men, frustrated by an inability to perpetuate a master race through science, seeks now to turn her into a Handmaid (to borrow from something else current). But whose?
There is great potential here, but mixing magic and space stations has always troubled me. I have no problem with novels like The Martian, which are wholly science, save that they can be boring if not well-written. Little, Big, which is wholly fantastic works because it is wholly fantastic; Dune and Foundation, posit a society in which what appears to be magic and/or religion is the product of science and discipline. All of these work (though as a an ex-sociologist and statistician, I find Foundation to be too much Asimov.
But Yuknavitch is so busy pouring bathwater that it’s hard to find the baby. Well, babies. There are lots of them by the end. How? Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
This was one of the books I finally just read through to get to the end. I didn’t find it rewarding. YMMV, and if it does, I’d like to hear what you got from the book.