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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson

Singing the Dogstar Blues

Singing the Dogstar Blues - Alison  Goodman 3.5 starsI had attempted to read this once before but that was back when my reading horizons were fairly narrow and I was the sort of uninformed moron who, when presented with science fiction, automatically thought: “Wait, what if nerd hunters drive by and tranq and tag me?”[1] I only made it through a few pages before putting it aside. Maybe it just wasn’t the right book at the time. Whatever the case, I’m probably still a moron, but hopefully a slightly more open-minded and informed one. This time, I read straight through quite quickly and I found a lot to like in this novel. It’s fast-paced and engaging, and despite the light tone of the narration, it’s clear that Goodman has put a lot of careful thought into the concepts that flesh out the story. Singing The Dogstar Blues takes place in Melbourne-of-the-distant-future, where spirited protagonist Joss is attending an elite time travel program at the university’s Centre for Neo-Historical Studies. When she is partnered with the centre’s first alien student, Mavkel, Joss is drawn into a race to break the rules and alter the course of history. While the plot is inventive and kept me guessing, Goodman deals with a range of interesting issues in this novel, albeit in a brisk manner. One of the most interesting elements of the story is Mavkel and Joss’ changing dynamic over the course of the story. Mavkel is a character who’s world is marked by duality (gender, birth pairs etc) and interconnectedness (a broken bond between a pair usually results in death) – while Joss is a solitary and somewhat prickly character who has her own complex reasons for spurning personal attachments. By thrusting these two together in a situation where they are compelled to work together, Goodman forces Joss to acknowledge certain truths about herself and re-examine her existing connections with others. I really enjoyed the exploration of the cultural, emotional and physical differences between Mavkel and Joss – particularly Goodman’s take on Chorian gender and the discussion around gender pronouns. Similarly there’s an interesting use of social class in the story, and Joss’ position as a “comp” (a child created using donors and genetic manipulation), that lends the novel a subtle gravity. This book is a lot of fun, and I thought Goodman’s worldbuilding was creative and fresh. I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on her use of a rubber-band theory of time travel, because timey stuff makes my head hurt after a while, but I think I grasped the concept here better than in say, Looper, which made me ask so many questions I wanted to bash my head against a wall. The climax felt a little rushed to me, with the action and subsequent denouement falling into place at breakneck speed– but Goodman handles the final twists and revelations well, which makes for a surprising and clever ending. If you’re looking for an intriguing sci-fi without romantic or dystopian trimmings, I’d definitely recommend this. [1] Why yes I have been watching a lot of Veronica Mars lately..