Saturday, October 25, 2008

"All the Windwracked Stars"

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. She is the author of eight sf/f novels, including A Companion to Wolves with Sarah Monette.

Bear applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All the Windwracked Stars, and reported the following:
Page 69 of All the Windwracked Stars in its entirety is as follows:

The glass wall to the courtyard admitted natural light, three stories' worth. Much of the main room had always been open space, high and airy for the absent mill machines. Where it had not been, Muire had torn out the second and third floors, leaving only the support members—beams thick with the memory of such trees as no longer grew on Valdyrgard, notched into the red-brick walls—and a four hundred square foot section of the overseer's office, reached by an iron spiral stair, as her apartment.

For now, the whole space stood empty and full of morning light, the only motion her neighbor in the courtyard, his head down over his watering. She didn't garden, herself, and it seemed a kind of sin to let it go uncultivated.

Within the door, she paused and threw the locks. The evidence of her long tenure was everywhere in her studio. The slate floor was scarred, and splashed metal had congealed in gouges left by the feet of giant machines. She hung Nathr on her hook, stripped off the ruins of her cloak—fumbling one-handed—and left a trail of armor behind her as she staggered toward the shower. And if her neighbor happened to glance up and catch a glimpse of her sexlessly bony frame right now, she couldn't be bothered to care.

The water was hot, at least, the catch basin on the rooftop full after last night's downpour. The pressure dropped occasionally—Sig filling his watering can or rinsing his hands—but Muire didn't care, any more than she cared about the soap and water squelching unpleasantly between her skin and the inflatable cast.

The hot water was strength, at least temporary strength, and she took it, leaning against the wall of the shower, eyes closed, breathing.

This is page 2 of Chapter 5, and what's going on here is that Muire, the primary protagonist of the novel, has just gotten home after a very bad night and a visit to the emergency room. She's marshaling her resources to return for round two of the fight she just lost conclusively. It's an aftermath and an interlude scene, and while the book itself has rather more action than you'll see on this page, I think in a lot of ways it is representative of the book.

One of the core themes of AtWS is about the stubborn persistence of life, and Muire is demonstrating that here. Battered, defeated, nursing a broken arm, she's withdrawn to her place of safety--but she has no intention of staying there. She's gathering herself to go back out and do what she has to do, despite overwhelming odds.

This is a brief respite, in other words, one that cannot last, and the puttering of her unassuming neighbor in his post-apocalyptic urban garden is meant to provide a counterpoint to that. Muire fights, she risks her life for the greater good as she perceives it--and around her, the daily business of existence goes on. The vegetables have to be watered and weeded. If you lose a fight, even if you survive, afterwards you still have to wash the blood and broken glass out of your hair.
Read excerpts from All the Windwracked Stars, and learn more about the author and her work at Elizabeth Bear's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue