So, as I’ve probably mentioned any other time I’ve written up a McKillip book, is how she will throw you into the middle of a fully built up world, and you’ll just be along for the ride, picking up clues to what the heck’s going on as you go along. What makes this book different is that it’s science fiction (definitely the first she wrote, maybe the only one). I really wasn’t sure how her style, which works really well in fantasy, would translate to science fiction, but it does work. I’m still not entirely sure what the entire mystery entailed, but it was an interesting journey to see what I could see.
The story centers on the Underworld, a satellite built as a maximum security prison for Earth’s worst criminals. The one anomaly is Terra Viridian. She killed over a thousand people one day in the Desert Sector, and was clearly insane while doing it – talking only of a vision, and that there needed to be light. But the government needed a scapegoat, and Terra was pushed through a trial and sent to Underworld, never to return to Earth.
Seven years later, and several things coincidentally happen at once – a scientist wishes to test a machine on Terra to see if he can understand the visions she claims to have. Underworld’s Rehabilitation director has decided to stage a concert, to bring some normal sounds to the Underworld. The leader of the band that’s chosen happens to be friends with a patroller who has been searching for Terra Veridian’s sister for seven years, to see if she knows why Terra did what she did. The band’s cuber can’t travel in space, so they enlist the help of the Queen of Hearts, the most famous cuber on Earth, who has never revealed her real name. These stories relate, but you have to keep reading to find out how.
I do think McKillip’s story style works better in fantasy – I needed a little more detail to make this book make sense to me, and I don’t think there would have been a way for the author to get that for me. I’m definitely glad I read it, but I’m also glad she focuses on fantasy.