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January Dancer

by Michael Flynn

Published by TOR

Print edition 2008

Reviewed by Mark Owings
Review posted 12/5/08

The dust jacket compares this to Doc Smith and Cordwainer Smith, which is fairly accurate, but it also has some characters that could have wandered in from an R.A. Lafferty story and even has some (intentional, here) bad taste you might expect from John Varley. It begins with a space-freighter on an uncharted planet finding several objects left by a race presumed long dead.

(Truly, it begins in a bar, since this is Flynn, but that's another story.) The one of those objects that can be taken is, and it passes through a number of owners, of whom some begin to suspect what it is and how it can be used. Everyone is at least partly wrong and there is a question of who or what is using whom (or what).

Let's back up again. This book really begins by demonstrating through physics that what is logically an illusion is actually the truth. And maybe that's the attitude to bring to the book. There is a lot of consideration of ethnicity here, and how it can be simultaneously true and false, and how the obvious is quite wrong.

I am not sure if this is Flynn's best book, but it is certainly his largest-scale one, and most complex, with a couple thousand years of history just mentioned in passing. (How, for example, did the whole population of the earth come to be exiled and replaced, and did it happen more than once?) But it's at least worth thinking about for a Hugo.

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