Author | Title | Rating | Latest
A book review by Steven Wu
August 23, 2003
|Rating: 8 (of 10)|
So Solitaire should fail: but it doesn't. It really, really doesn't. Like Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, also a flawed novel, Eskridge is a master at building characters and at describing relationships. Ren, despite her exotic title and the curious society in which she lives, becomes a real person over the course of the novel, and her pains and tribulations, and occasional joys, become a part of the reader. Even more affecting, her relationships with various other characters--her parents, her mentor, her post-cool-idea friends (about which more later)--seem so heartfelt and familiar that her relationship dramas really hit home.
Eskridge is so successful with her characters and their relationships that her single cool science-fiction idea is completely overwhelmed. [(possible) SPOILERS AHEAD] Partway through the novel, Ren is convicted of a heinous crime. For her sentence, she is sent into an experimental program where her body is encased in a life support unit for eight months--while her mind subjectively goes through ten years in a small, plain gray room. [Sidenote: I wanted to run a case about this kind of prison unit for debate. The question would be whether the use of such a jail is preferable, or whether it is cruel and unusual, or perhaps not sufficiently deterrent.] In a couple of brisk chapters, Eskridge manages to effectively convey the intense solitude and growing madness of being all by yourself for a decade. [/END SPOILERS] It's a neat idea that Eskridge proposes: and yet, what's remarkable is that the surrounding chapters are far more interesting than the chapters concerning her one idea. Very few science fiction authors are better than their best idea, but Eskridge is, refreshingly, one of this select group.
Eskridge's basic messages in Solitaire are fairly simple: love is good; prejudice is bad; people deserve second chances; don't step on the downtrodden; people are inherently good. These messages aren't too deep, but I like them. Perhaps it is my sympathy with these messages that makes me like the novel so much. But it is also certainly the case that Eskridge has proven herself to be a remarkably effective author with this, her first book. Let us hope there are many more to come.
Steven Wu's Book Reviews