Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: The Breath of the Sun by Rachel Fellman, at Strange Horizons

Today at Strange Horizons I review Rachel Fellman's The Breath of the Sun, a remarkably assured debut that challenged me to fully capture it.  As I write in my opening paragraph, it's a novel that invites comparisons, but is also very much its own thing:
There are any number of neat, one-sentence ways to sum up Rachel Fellman's The Breath of the Sun. You could describe it as a cross between Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria (2013), Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (1997). You could sum it up as a fantasy-world fictionalization of the first summit of Everest, in which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are both women, and one of them is a wizard. And you could even make an argument for the book as a Nabokovian meta-narrative, in which both the narrator and her first and only reader try to puzzle out what actually happened, juxtaposing the story with later observations and documentary evidence. 
These are all accurate descriptions—and, I hope, enticing ones. But they don't quite do The Breath of the Sun justice.
The novel itself is a climbing memoir in a fantasy land where mountains reach well beyond the atmosphere and scientist-priests use magic to craft pressure suits and hot air balloons.  It's about exploration, religion, and obsessive love.  It's unlike anything else I've read this year, and I strongly urge you to seek it out.

While I have you, allow me to recommend two other recent pieces in Strange Horizons that are well worth your time.  First, Erin Horáková follows up the epic "Kirk Drift" with "Erin Groans: A Gormenvast Review of Every Adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Titus Books".  Which, well, does what it says on the tin, with a typically thorough Erin exploring stage adaptations, radio plays, and weird art projects.  It's a great exploration of how this odd, indescribable work has inspired artists in multiple mediums, and how they've struggled with its nuances.  Second, Samira Nadkarni offers what must be, hands-down, the most thorough and thoughtful review of Venom, discussing the way that issues of race, colonialism, and disability are filtered through the film's plot about an irreverent alien parasite taking over a hapless human.  It's a wonderful example of how to take a serious approach to an inherently silly work.

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