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So close and yet so far

The Witling The Witling by Vernor Vinge

rating: 3 of 5 stars

I quite liked this book up until the last few pages. The last few pages utterly spoiled for me a big part of why I liked it. I will talk about the last few pages so if you don't want spoilers don't click the cut tag.

There are two things I liked about this book.

1. In general I like the way Vinge takes an idea and thinks through a lot of the ramifications of that idea and builds a world and a plot on them. (He does a really good job of this in A Fire Upon the Deep which has a species in which a single entity is made up of a pack of telepathic bodies.)

In this book, the idea he explores is that the humanoids (and some other higher order animals) living on a particular plant can use telekinesis to teleport themselves and other things to certain locations. This creates a society where, for example, the "wings" of a palace can be spread apart over hundreds of miles, because the people inhabiting the palace can teleport easily from one wing to another. Because of this ability, these people never developed a lot of the technology that was primarily developed on Earth for getting people and things from one place to another.

2. One of the main characters is a human woman, a scientist who has come to study this planet. She is portrayed through the eyes of her partner (another scientist) -- and to some extent through her own eyes -- as very intelligent, physically unattractive (short, stout, and awkward), and having a brusque personality. None of this is a big deal. At the same time, the people native to this planet are even shorter and stouter, and so some of them see her as tall, willowy, and elf-like and find her extremely attractive. She has some conflicted reactions to this. I don't see a lot of well-done explorations of body image in science fiction and especially in books written by men so I thought this was pretty cool.

Toward the end of the story, she becomes brain-damaged. At the very end of the story, she's back with humans who have the medical facilities to treat some of the damage, but she probably won't get her mind and intelligence back again. But that's OK, she's perfectly happy because someone is in love with her and that's all that matters.

Somehow I guess we are supposed to think this is a perfectly suitable ending for the character. But I think it's like crumpling the character up and throwing her in the wastebasket. Feh.

View all my reviews.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 30th, 2008 06:46 am (UTC)
Yeah, I thought that was pretty fucked up too.
Oct. 30th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Liz Henry handed Vinge his ass about this stuff a while ago. I just can't read him any more, I can't deal with the hatred.
Oct. 30th, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I enjoyed that post.

Yonmei wrote a post on the same blog about The Witling:

I didn't have the same reaction to Deepness or to the other scenes discussed in Yonmei's post.
Nov. 1st, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
Argh. Sexist, much?
Nov. 5th, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
Ewww at the ending.

I'm kinda glad you spared me the effort of reading the book :/ I HATE it when things like that happen.
Nov. 5th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)
I would tear off the last few pages and mail the rest to you, but it's kinda against my religion to vandalize books, even bad books.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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