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Five-Twelfths of Heaven (1985)

de Melissa Scott

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Sèrie: The Roads of Heaven (Book 1)

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This is the first book of the Silence Leigh trilogy, followed in 1986 by Silence in Solitude and in 1987 by The Empress of the Earth. It was later released in a SFBC omnibus edition, The Roads of Heaven. But that’s a pretty naff title for the trilogy, even if it is, well, pretty accurate (it’s also used by the current small press Kindle omnibus). Because in the universe of Five-Twelfths of Heaven, it’s the music of the spheres which allows for interstellar travel. Starship have “harmoniums” (harmonia?) and it is the music they make which drives starships into orbit and pushes them into “purgatory” (ie, hyperspace) at velocities measured in “twelfths of heaven”. Most starships travel at a sixth of heaven, so five-twelfths of heaven is pretty quick. It’s also the speed of the ship, Sun-Treader, whose crew pilot Silence reluctantly joins when she finds herself trapped on a world of the Hegemon after her grandfather dies. Because her grandfather owned the starship she piloted, but her uncle had done a deal with a local merchant so the ship would need to be sold to cover grandfather’s debts and, as a woman, Silence has no legal standing… But Captain Balthasar of Sun-Treader agrees to act as her representative in probate court, and offers her a job afterwards. He needs a female pilot – and female pilots are very rare – because his engineer has fake papers, but if Silence enters into a marriage of convenience with the two of them they can get him proper papers. Polygamy, apparently, is okay, but not same-sex marriage. Silence agrees. Things go reasonably well, but then Balthasar is called to a captains’ meeting of Wrath-of-God, a major pirate combine, and it’s war against the Hegemon. But the attack fails, and Silence and her two husbands are captured by Hegemon forces, and put under geas. Except Silence manages somehow to break the geas – it seems she could well be a magus. And… well, spoilers. Obviously, the main draw of Five-Twelfths of Heaven is the mix of science fiction and magic. It’s cleverly done. FTL is itself a metaphor, and Scott recognises this and chooses to use a metaphor typically not associated with sf instead. It works because she maintains rigour, her magic system has as many rules, and operates as logically, as some made-up “scientific” FTL drive would. Instead of computers churning out numbers, her pilots have to memorise Tarot-like symbolic diagrams. Instead of laws of physics, she writes about notes and chords and dissonances. Different words for the same things. And a good example why you can’t use tropes to differentiate between science fiction and fantasy. If I’d discovered Scott back in the 1980s, I think it likely she’d have become a writer whose work I sought out. She certainly is now. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this trilogy. ( )
2 vota iansales | Oct 25, 2018 |
The book took me a while to get into. The plot starts slow, but picks up quickly, and becomes richer and more engaging as the book progresses. Silence Leigh is an interesting character set in an complex world. Most of her world is controlled by a Hegemony, a social system where women are little more than slaves, without rights or power. Into the system comes Silence, who was raised in the Fringe by a grandfather who supported her desire to be a star ship pilot - something unheard of in the Hegemony. In the end, events force her into a marriage of convenience with two men - yes, a triple marriage. The author, Scott, is apparently known for the gender-bending sexuality of her novels. Since this is my first Scott, I can't speak to more of that.
The most interesting part of the Scott's world building is space flight. It took me until nearly the end of the book to figure out the details, but once I did, I find the system fascinating. To fly by music, literally, is creative and intriguing. And then to add it the concept of magus, and their abilities to bend or manipulate reality. It almost has a Star Wars feel - magic and machine, technology and fantasy blended.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how modern it felt - being that is was published in 1985, I expect some dated references but they're weren't any that I could detect. No gold-lamé jumpsuits or green bulbous aliens or laser swords. Scott did an excellent job of creating logical technology and systems that give the story a credible feel.
In the end, while this book isn't a stay-up-into-the-wee-smaws sort of story, I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading the next two. ( )
  empress8411 | May 9, 2015 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Melissa Scottautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
DeLisle, ArielleNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat

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