Authors: Dave Duncan
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Dystopian, #Space Opera
Copyright © 2002 Dave Duncan
Published in the United States in 2003
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of Red Deer Press or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from CANCOPY (Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency), 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, ON M5E IE5, fax (416) 868-1621.
Red Deer Press
813 MacKimmie Library Tower
2500 University Drive N.W.
Calgary Alberta Canada T2N 1N4
Edited for Bakka Books by John Rose and Salman A. Nensi.
Cover design by Mike Speke, Speke Visual Communications.
Text design by Dennis Johnson.
Printed and bound in Canada by Friesens for Red Deer Press.
Financial support provided by the Canada Council, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, a beneficiary of the Lottery Fund of the Government of Alberta, and the University of Calgary.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
Duncan, Dave, 1933-
West of January
PS8557.U5373W47 2002 C813'·54 C2002-910249-9
5 4 3 2 1
I address you here in a short screed commissioned as a foreword, but if I were the editor of this most excellent series of classic Canadian speculative fiction reprints, I’d put it at the end, because it’s full of spoilers. I can’t help it. In order to talk about Dave Duncan and
West of January
I have to actually talk
it, so if you find this letter from me at the start of the book, no one will mind if you skip it until you’ve read the book. That’s what a bunch of you did already, I know it. Who wants to read a foreword when there’s an unread Dave Duncan to dive into?
If you just picked up this book out of idle curiosity, you might want to hang in while I explain to you who Dave Duncan is. Hmmm. Let’s see…
What do you get when you cross a rapid typist with a guy with a classical education or a love of the classics (comes out to the same thing) and let him loose on the speculative fiction world? You get Dave Duncan, a menace to crowded bookshelves everywhere.
Dave is the kind of writer who makes slow writers envious. He does everything we do but faster, backwards and in high heels—oops, wrong joke. Try again. He writes about five books a year, and they’re all good. No joke. Dave has written so many books, and so many each year, that the publishers have taken to putting out some of them under pseudonyms, so as not to startle the public or to set up expectations the rest of us poor drudges—I mean, slower writers—can’t live up to. But it’s an open secret, for example, that Sarah Franklin happens to share Dave’s liking for the Iliad and the Odyssey—and she may even have the same tidily cropped salt-and-pepper beard that graces Dave’s puckish face. (Poor woman. The beard looks good on Dave, but on the writer of a sexy, fascinating historical novel making a major heroine out of a minor woman character from the story of the Trojan War? Well.)
Dave used to be a geologist, but in the original edition of this book, which I have before me, he listed a few other recreational interests he pursued during the 30 years of his geology career: astronomy, acting, statistics, history, painting, hiking, model ship building, photography, computer programming, chess, genealogy, and stock market speculation. He then wrote, “An attempt to add writing to this list backfired—he met with enough encouragement that he took up writing full time. Now his hobby is geology.” That was in 1989. Who
what else is on the list now?
In the copy of the first edition which I own, Dave has written: “Candas, I am sure you will enjoy getting your teeth into this—or do I mean
It had been 12 years since August of 1989, but now I get my chance. Your call, Dave, whether you think what follows is teeth or claws! The inscription goes on to say: “P.S. Try not to explode before you get to the end.” But I admire and like this book. As series editor of Tesseract Books from 1994 to the present, I was even offered the chance to reprint it, but publishing being a perilous endeavor, we never did get to a reprint series. How delighted I was to hear that Salman Nensi and Bakka Books was going to bring out this edition, and how further delighted I am to be asked to introduce it. If anyone tries to convince you that SF publishers compete, especially in Canada, laugh in their face. We are all in the service of the wonderful writers who abound in this field in this country, of whom Dave Duncan is one of the foremost (and most prolific), and that’s my segue back to
West of January.
This is also where the spoiler warning takes effect.
West of January
is one of Dave’s early books. He’d only written five before this one. (That had been published, that is. Who knows what secret manuscripts he was reserving so as not to seem
greedy about his market share?)
A Rose-Red City,
the early books, are out of print and deserve republication. (Duncan fans made since then would fall upon them with delight, I should think, as they will—as you have—on this new edition of
West of January.)
Then the first of the swordsmen fantasy trilogies. The Seventh Sword books hooked a bunch of trilogy readers, young and old, on the Duncanesque view of the world: the one in which the story seems to be slicing right down the middle of the genre sward, but if you go along for the ride, it proves to have a few hidden twists and spins. Read Robert Runté’s critical writing about Dave’s books if you want more detail.
West of January
was something different. Or maybe not, but at least in terms of setting, it was only ostensibly fantasy. In fact, it is one of Duncan’s most interesting thought experiments, and the premise is relentlessly “SFnal”: what’s it like to try to set up a civilization on a planet with the rotation just slightly shorter than its revolution. Unlike Earth’s moon, for which both of revolution and rotation are the same period, which is why the moon turns the same face to its primary, Earth, all the time, the planet Vernier slowly, slowly changes the face it turns to its sun, and the “day” creeps destructively around the planet on a cycle of many hundreds of years. It’s a pure science fiction premise, and a complicated one.
But Dave doesn’t waste much time with the expository lumps. He gives us the key to the story in his epigraph—a Duncan signature, by the way, so all you lazy readers who skip the twiddly bits in the italics on the page before the “real story”, take warning from me on this: you are missing out on core thematic material. (Remember Robert McKee’s dictum:
Theme is the writerly perspective on the significance of the story.)
Then Dave gets right down to business.
West of January
hinges on chronology, so narratively, it is not only obvious but also subtle (take that, my ingenuous friend!) to structure the story chronologically, along the life cycle of a single resident of Vernier, and to name the regions of the planet after units of time. Knobil (can there be any symbolism in the name?) is born west of January, travels through to April or May or so (from what I can figure of the maps), and ranges from Wednesday north and south to…oh, I
you not to read this until
All right, forget the spoilers. Let’s make them teasers then. Knobil goes all over the place and had adventures. He has a lot of sex. He sires a lot of children. He learns a lot of cool stuff. Just the sort of thing to attract the entertainment-oriented reader.
It’s true, if you read this book you will have a lot of fun too. But I have very bad news for you. If you read this book you might learn something. You might have to think. And the things you might have to think about are both the great human themes and the local human problems: the nature of civilization; when it’s wrong to kill; man, woman, birth, death, infinity (oops, wrong genre, wrong medium, and showing my age as well…); gender roles—really—and the survival reasons for tribal family structures; how to use your intelligence; who is God. Dave likes to pretend he’s doing all this writing stuff for pure fun, to entertain people, to frolic—but he isn’t. He has something to say.
But don’t let that put you off. It doesn’t hurt. In fact, it actually makes reading his books
Dave Duncan has a clear and well-organized “perspective on the significance of the story.” He has read a lot of history and anthropology. He has read a lot of the Great Literatures of several European cultures. He knows stuff about population migrations, climate changes and their effect on human tribal cultures. But Dave isn’t one of those writers who insists that if he had to do all that research, the reader darned well better sit through
all of it.
No, Dave’s more of a prestidigitator. He saves the technical stuff for behind the scenes. Instead, he provides
action, character, dialogue, movement, change, catharsis, suffering, insight, prejudice, individual point of view—all the stuff we look for in “pure entertainment.”
The reason Dave warned me not to explode back in 1989 is that he knows I’m a feminist. He put some pretty patriarchal and misogynist societies on Vernier. He wanted me to wait to pass judgment until I saw what the story did in the way of transformations—and I did. Yeah,
West of Januarys
protagonist is probably the furthest thing from the kind of save-the-world protagonist I’d write (except for the good sex, of course). But so what? I don’t know whether Dave would explode himself if I were to call him a feminist too. But the fact is, despite some local differences in the ideology of gender, Dave is a civilized person, and not only does he really like women, he really thinks women are—gasp—people. Doesn’t that make
a feminist too?
Okay, Dave, do you buy the argument that
West of January
is the kind of book a Scottish-born (in 1933), happily married, well-read, logically minded, conservative, interesting, genre-loving, ambitious, fast-typing, bearded feminist writes? I bet that sound is Dave snickering. Tough luck. And it’s true, I’m not sure that some doctrinaire radical feminists of my acquaintance would buy the argument either. But I will still argue that books like this are necessary, valuable and useful as well as being fun. I think that people of good conscience who are gutsy enough as writers to go where the story demands are the writers who are going to raise new generations with more thoughtfulness, more conscience than the generations before. If we can’t all contribute to that great endeavor of changing the world for the better in ways that are colored by our individual selves, then to quote a feminist (and a popular t-shirt), I don’t really want to be part of that revolution.
Now, let’s face it. Getting one writer to comment on another’s way of solving story problems is a “parlous” enterprise: are we driven by ideology or the almost irresistible urge to tell our own version of the story? So that’s all I’ll say about ideological concerns or story structure. I’ll leave it to the scholars to apply feminist theory or sociobiology or queer theory or deconstructionism or the theory of Canadian SFnal uniqueness to
West of January.
They can get all the pub. credits. They won’t find it a perfect book. But that’s not the point. It’s a fascinating book. It’s an entertaining book. It has texture and structure. It has secrets and surprises. It’s a
It’s been a long time since 1989 and lots of things have happened in the world. Some of them seem almost designed to convince us that the concept of “civilization” is just a human pipe dream. Modern humankind has a lot more in common with Knobil than we think. We too are trying to figure out how to save and improve our world. At least we can see, by the end of
West of January,
that Knobil, as an appropriately larger-than-life hero type (self-effacing though he may be in the first person), had a chance with his, and made the most of it.