Tag: susan r matthews

Avalanche Soldier


Avalanche Soldier
By Susan R Matthews

I started reading this novel, and about five pages in, due to something about the quality of the prose, I felt that I had read this author before. Turns out I had read, as Susan R Matthews wrote Prisoner of Conscience. Avalanche Soldiers is quite a different novel, though: where Prisoner of Conscience was tortured, difficult, and painful, Avalanche Soldier is earnest, inviting, and introspective. It is a story of two religions, the societies that follow each religion, and what happens at the intersection, where orthodox meets heterodox.

The world is fascinating, with a complicated history that is both well thought out and subject to the same issues of interpretation as real world history, with cultural, religious, and political considerations playing roles in shaping that history and how it is told. There are a wealth of terms and synonyms relating to religious and cultural persuasion, and it lends a richness to the work, although between the pilgrims, wayfarers, orthodox, Shadene, heterodox, believers, and dreamers, it can be hard to keep the terms straight at times.

I really enjoyed the viewpoint character: she was professional, capable, likeable, sympathetic, and a million other positive adjectives, all while espousing very different viewpoints from me. Her attention to the details of the natural world.

The immersion of the main character in the heterodox teaching is a great exploration of religious sentiment, how religious belief and faith functions, and was super interesting in general. That also leads into Varrick, the leader of the Varrick Teaching, and the mysteries behind her origins and motive. This is an aspect that I think was very well done: much at the core of spirituality and religion is about the mysterious, and that survives and is conveyed very well here.

Storycraft wise, the book is great. The flow and pacing are very well done, and  the mixture of scenes to summary was perfect, although there did seem to be an unusually high frequency of depicting characters lapsing into unconsciousness.



susan r. matthews
Published by Avon Books, 1998.

I admit I do not know this for a fact, but I suspect many readers do not enjoy serious depictions of torture, rape, forced relocation, slavery, subjugation, and characters who justify such a spectrum of atrocities with the entire weight of a societal moral system behind them. Much of the science fiction I have read tends to avoid meditating on such grim fare.

PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE is not most books, and the universe it presents is not like much science fiction I have read. It submerges its characters, its entire universe, deep in precisely such grim fare. And yet it is more than a pornography of misery, for it does not glory in these things, but presents a universe steeped in them which invites reflection. In the spirit of the “what if?” tradition of science fiction, it takes the question of torture and a morality other than ours, constructs a universe and culture and institutions and characters around it, and then story and plot build out of the resulting interactions.

The tale which consequently unravels is difficult, strange, and often-times confusing, as much of the society and characters are so contradictory to the values that I hold dear. The characters conscience such acts that I would consider unconscionable for any good person. And yet it becomes clear that they have their own code of honor and morality, their own balance of guilt and shame, their own boundaries and horror at acts which cross those boundaries.

The writing is well done, and possesses a quality of otherness that is elusive to describe: it does very well at presenting the world, the characters and their thoughts impartially, which contributes a great deal to the atmosphere of the book. The universe is detailed and atypical, and the characters are developed in depth. Still, the book is grim and depicts much unpleasantness, although it is not overly graphic in presenting it. But if that will not disturb you, then it may be an interesting read.

Cover Art Review: Confusing, and utterly unrelated to the story at hand. So, in many ways, a typical science fiction book cover.