Larque on the Wing, by Nancy Springer; and The Matter of Seggri, by Ursula Le Guin

Second paragraph of third chapter of Larque on the Wing:

Emergency bells were ringing in Larque’s bones. She had to find Sky.

I confess I had never heard of Nancy Springer before reading this novel, which shared the 1995 James Tiptree Jr Award with "The Matter of Seggri". It turns out that she is much better known for her YA novels about Sherlock Holmes' smarter younger sister. I found Larque on the Wing a complete delight. The viewpoint character, Larque Harootunian, undergoes a mid-life crisis similar to that in Doris Lessing's The Summer Before the Dark, with the important difference that she is able to create doppelgangers of people she interacts with more or less by accident, and that her conservative mother is able to blink away undesirable characteristics of the people she interacts with. Larque reinvents herself as a young gay chap, to the dismay of her husband, and everyone needs to do some readjusting. The tone is comic but the foundations are hard. One of those cases where the awards system identified a good novel that might not otherwise have got much recognition from the genre. You can get it here.

Second paragraph of third section of "The Matter of Seggri":

Anyhow I understand better now what I was seeing at the Games in Reha. There are sixteen adult women for every adult man. One conception in six or so is male, but a lot of nonviable male fetuses and defective male births bring it down to one in sixteen by puberty. My ancestors must have really had fun playing with these people’s chromosomes. I feel guilty, even if it was a million years ago. I have to learn to do without shame but had better not forget the one good use of guilt. Anyhow. A fairly small town like Reha shares its Castle with other towns. That confusing spectacle I was taken to on my tenth day down was Awaga Castle trying to keep its place in the Maingame against a castle from up north, and losing. Which means Awaga’s team can’t play in the big game this year in Fadrga, the city south of here, from which the winners go on to compete in the big big game at Zask, where people come from all over the continent – hundreds of contestants and thousands of spectators. I saw some holos of last year’s Maingame at Zask. There were 1280 players, the comment said, and forty balls in play. It looked to me like a total mess, my idea of a battle between two unarmed armies, but I gather that great skill and strategy is involved. All the members of the winning team get a special title for the year, and another one for life, and bring glory back to their various Castles and the towns that support them.

This is a late great Ursula Le Guin story, set on a planet where men are a small minority, pampered and constrained to athletics rather than anything intellectual. Le Guin takes us through Seggri's history in a series of (mostly) external accounts, as integration with galactic society brings about the crumbling of traditional gender roles. It's a parable, of course, but it's very powerful as well. You can get it most readily as part of the Birthday of the World collection.

"The Matter of Seggri" was on the ballot for Best Novelette for both Hugo and Nebula, beaten in both cases by "The Martian Child", by David Gerrold. Ursula Le Guin's novella "Forgiveness Day" was also a finalist for all three awards. "Cocoon" by Greg Egan was on the Tiptree shortlist and the Hugo ballot, as was Le Guin's "Solitude". Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack was on the Tiptree and Nebula shortlists. North Wind, by Gwyneth Jones, was up for the Tiptree, BSFA and Clarke Awards, but did not win any of them. This is the only SF award that Nancy Springer has won to date; the Tiptree folks rewarded her by making her a judge the following year.

This was the year that the Nebula for Best Novel went to Moving Mars, and the Hugo to Mirror Dance. In this sequence I am also tracking the Clarke and BSFA awards, which that year went to Fools by Pat Cadigan and Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks respectively; I shall take them in that order.

One thought on “Larque on the Wing, by Nancy Springer; and The Matter of Seggri, by Ursula Le Guin

  1. Dawn was kind of an interesting book, but I enjoyed Mind of My Mind and Wild Seed best of all the Butler novels I’ve read.

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