15 November 2012

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
1981 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
409 Pages

Nearing the end of the Winter Clan’s 150-years of rule over the planet Tiamat, in a desperate bid for immortality, the Snow Queen, Arienrod, secretly implants several clones in her subjects in order to produce a perfect copy of herself and take her place though tradition would have her succeed her power to the Summer Clan.  Only one of those clones survives, Moon Dawntreader, and it turns out she never got the message.  Instead, Moon becomes a Sybil and as a part of the secretive and mysterious group of soothsayers, stands poised to uncover the truth not only of the Snow Queen’s plot, but also of galactic conspiracies.

Shame and humiliation…
I have two admissions of guilt as I begin this review:
1)      I was not familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen original, nor any of its re-tellings before reading Vinge’s.  This was my introduction and I’m not sure that did me a disservice, but I certainly would have had a much different perspective.  Since I was taking so long to begin this review, I snagged a few different copies, including H.C.A.’s original (side admission: I’ve not read very many of his originals! though I’m familiar with many re-tellings).  So hopefully I’ve corrected my problem of perspective and can apply it retroactively.
2)     I have a huge crush on Moon Dawntreader.  This doesn’t happen very often, but I’m noticing it is sometimes the case with female protagonists who, quietly or not, kick-ass.  I feel justified; Moon will kick yours.
So yeah, thrice guilty.  But hey, I’m glad I admitted to them, and I’m glad I took the time for the original, because I think it improved my reading of Vinge’s telling.  So if you’ve read and loved this Hugo, do look into Hans Christian Andersen’s original.

Fairy tales, juiced
People talk about how much this book reads like fantasy.  The interview with Vinge at the back of my copy acknowledges this and Vinge makes no bones about her fascination with the mythological elements of fantasy.  We’ll, I can’t argue with that much, but I’d still like to alter that depiction somewhat.

After going back to the original Snow Queen.  I might not say it’s some kind of quasi-fantasy, but that it reads quite a lot like a fairy tale.  Maybe the distinction isn’t much of an improvement, but I think it more precisely captures what it is that makes The Snow Queen stand out among Hugo Winners.

I say fairy tale because Vinge uses a hell of a lot of imaginative symbolism, allegory, metaphor, an explicit moral narrative, and so many other tropes you would expect from your favorite children’s tales.  Sure, The Snow Queen might feel a little paranormal, some characters a little monstrous, inhuman, but I don’t think it recalls fantasy quite so much as it does fairy tales.  Yeah, I think I’d be inclined to say it (rightfully) reminds me of a fairy tale.  In fact, Vinge did a surprisingly good job of remaining faithful to quite a few details from Andersen’s original, and I think there could be an opportunity for a really thorough comparison of the two versions.

But more than that, Vinge did a fantastic job of making what was kind of creepy in the fairy tale, absolutely terrifying in her own, and the same went for anything sweet about the children or nerve-wracking or fun or whatever.  Joan D. Vinge gives us Hans Christian Andersen on steroids.

There were a lot of things I liked about The Snow Queen and I liked it for a lot of the same reasons that I liked The Dispossessed: carefully crafted characters, gender role reversals, fun-ness.  Silky.  I just want to say I love Silky.  So much.  But one of the things I like best about this book is the place that it occupies among the entire field of Hugo Winners.  I feel like such a powerful adaptation of a popular fairy tale (and Vinge would say it is even older than Andersen’s telling) tethers SF to a kind of storytelling that is rooted deep in human history.  So many people revered U.K. LeGuin for making SF relevant, a part of something greater; I think Joan D. Vinge does very much the same thing with The Snow Queen and I adored it for that.  Also Silky.  Did I mention that already?


Universe 5/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 5/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
Characters 4/5

Overall 24/25

Moving on…
This week’s book is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and I’m still working on (almost done with) Green Mars via audiobook.

After that comes Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold.


  1. You say thrice guilty. What's the 3rd? Did you misspeak and mean twice?

    1. The 2 bullets and the admission that I'm not very familiar with original Hans Christian Andersen stories. But maybe you're to blame for that!?

  2. I really want to read this now. Your LeGuin/Dispossessed comparison (and the awesome cover)persuaded me. Good stuff.

  3. Your review makes me really want to find a copy of this one soon! I was a little bit obsessed with Hans Christian Andersen as a small child (his stories always seemed far more compelling to me than the Grimms brothers), and now I'm curious to see how that will affect my experience of the novel. I also have a vague, un-focused goal of eventually reading all the Hugo winners as you have been doing (I think I lack 13 or so), and this one was probably going to be one of the last, due to its unavailability in e-book format. Now I'm wondering if it might be worth it to just order a physical book :).

    1. Well, I'm not sure how it would compare to the other 12 since I don't know what you have left, but I would say it is probably worth the effort of a physical copy. I think you'll enjoy it.

    2. I forgot to say that I think Andersen and Vinge really compliment each other well, so I think it will only make your experience that much better. I had so much fun with the two of them, I'm thinking of another post later this week.

  4. I'm with Allie, you make me want to find a copy of this soonest! I'm certainly bumping it up my list--but what?! the Library has The Summer Queen, but not The Snow Queen? ... may have to make a call.


    1. Oh man, I hate that. But then, I get upset that they don't have every Hugo Winner. I'm told that a missing book in a series is generally indicative of a theft or lost/damaged book that they just haven't replaced yet. Make that call! I'll be really interested in your opinion of this one, L.


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