Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Crucible by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress became one of my favorite authors with Beggars in Spain because she managed to write a story that was interesting on a plot level but also involved politics, psychology and a dozen deeper elements that made me think. I put her into the category of sociological SF even though there is not an alien in sight because she exposes the heart of people and how even the bigger institutions and greater purposes have roots in base human behavior. This makes them understandable when the layers of civilization are peeled back--understandable but not necessarily appreciated.

Anyway, she continued this in Crossfire but tucked in not one but two alien races as well, much to my delight. I read Crossfire some time ago and picked up Crucible solely as a Nancy Kress. To discover it was a sequel was a treat, though with the time between the two, I struggled a bit to remember the context. This book is half heavily dependent on the previous one and half completely free standing, an odd mix. There are two main plots, one involving the previous characters and what they set out to do at the end of the first novel and the other involving the colonists who remained on the planet. Though the threads do intersect and twist together by the end, the dependency on prior knowledge is only present in the thread about the previous characters. Having that knowledge, I cannot say whether someone coming in fresh would be dissatisfied, but I'd recommend reading Crossfire first.

Crucible is a strong novel peppered with the interesting characters and tangled motivations that have drawn me to Nancy Kress's work. There are both cross-species and human conflicts and not everything is as it seems. The clues as to what is really happening are there both for detailed readers like myself and for others to look back and say, "I understand how this happened." Even with recognizing the clues, though I found myself in the horror movie screaming, "Don't open that door," the other characters acted appropriately within their nature, never once making me wonder why they didn't see the clues I did. I'm just a suspicious type :).

Okay, I've said what I can without revealing anything (or much). If you enjoy complicated novels that make you think while pulling you into a fascinating story of human failing and success, that makes you look at the heart of human motivation, you should give both Crossfire and Crucible a try. I doubt you'll walk away disappointed.

Oh, and for Nancy Kress fans, there's an in joke from Beggars in Spain that I enjoyed getting :).