Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book #11: Poland

Siberia by Ann Halam

I seem to be in a future-dystopia mood these last weeks. I tell myself it’s all research for my WIP.

Siberia, according to the author, is less a place and more a state of mind. The Gulf Stream has stopped bringing warm weather to Europe (see The Day After Tomorrow :P) and decent people live in domed cities to escape the cold. Unfortunately, decent people aren’t as decent as they could be, and have managed to kill off most of the animals and accidentally set loose mutations that make monsters of the rest. If you’ve done something wrong or something the government doesn’t like, you’re sent to the wilderness, to a new Siberia.

You’re supposed to make things difficult for your characters, otherwise there’s no tension and no real story. Halam does this to perfection, and makes things extremely difficult for the main character Sloe. At the age of four she’s sent with her mother to a Settlement in the Polish wilderness where summer lasts a few weeks and is spent desperately trying to grow food for the frozen winter ahead. Her mother spends all her time making nails, and Sloe struggles to fit in with the children of the other convicts. She breaks a leg, which heals badly, gets sent off to a boarding-school prison, and sells out her mother by mistake.

On top of all this, she’s promised her mother she’ll take the last secret stores of mammal DNA to a safe city in the north. The only way to get there is across the snow and ice in winter by foot, because you can’t get travel passes if you’re from a Settlement.

I really enjoyed this book. Despite the multitude of difficulties, it doesn’t get to the point where you think ‘here we go again’. You feel for Sloe, with nothing for company but the mammal DNA. It’s actually quite good company, though, as the DNA has to be turned into tiny animals every so often to keep it fresh, and the tiny animals are SO CUTE.

I can’t imagine being outside in such cold. I thought I was going to die at the beginning of winter this year, and it doesn’t even get to freezing point here. Halam does a great job of describing the beauty and harshness of the landscape, and makes me think I could brave the cold to see such places.

Any more books set in Poland?

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