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SufferStone by Stella Atrium


by Stella Atrium

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Authors:Stella Atrium
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Tags:science fiction, space travel, colonialism, corporate power, human rights

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SufferStone by Stella Atrium

Recently added byChuckNorton



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In SufferStone, book one of her Dolvia Saga, Stella Atrium creates a vivid tale of the struggle for human rights and social justice on a distant planet many centuries in the future. While a science fiction novel, this story transcends the genre to explore issues of personal, tribal and gender identity, the clash of cultures, environmentalism and corporate power. The novel is set mostly on Dolvia, a small planet with an Earthlike biosphere (most of the action takes place in the semi-arid savannah region of the planet) that has been settled by humans who reached it via a wormhole and who have created a "native' culture of their own. We are not told just how far in the future this is, but a clue is perhaps provided by a four digit number in a computer log-in time-date stamp that may indicate the story takes place in the 35th century. Evidently, the original settlers of Dolvia arrived there so much earlier that their descendants have retained little ancestral memory of the Earth. Instead they think of themselves as Dolviets and newly arrived Terrans as aliens.

Stella Atrium, whose name may be loosely translated as "Star Entrance", first introduces us to Dolvia as seen from the eyes of Brian Miller, a contractor working for the Company, a Chinese corporation of galactic magnitude that has made itself the dominant power in the Westend, the star system that includes Dolvia. He appears first as a hired gun helping the Company put down a rebellion in one of its outposts. He is then transferred to Dolvia where he is assigned to manage a textile mill employing (exploiting) cheap native labor. But he soon "goes native" developing a sympathy for his employees and the other Dolviets he meets. Despite his mercenary background, we learn that he is a man of honor and basic decency who places his human bond with the Dolviets ahead of Company interests, resulting in his losing the privelege of "jumping back" through the Company-controlled Star Junction to Earth. We learn that he had yearned to go home to Montana, which is still Big Sky horse country in the fourth millennium (a comforting thought). As an Earthling working for a ruthless corporation that dictates where he can live, he serves as the readers' connection to the world of the novel, somebody we which we can identify. As he tells us of his struggle to adjust to his new life and work on Dolvia, we experience the strangeness of the place and its diversity of cultures. We learn of the tribal groups of the natives and their concepts of the proper relationships between men and women, family and outsiders, and the planet and its people.

SufferStone is told in the first person, first by Brian Miller, then by one of the daughters of Arim, a family of strong-willed women who play a crucial role in the Dolviet struggle against the Company, then by Heather Osbourne, a "Hardhand" colonist (newly arrived Terran settlers), and finally returning to Miller's narrative as he has gone entirely over to the Dolviet side of the conflict. Since all the narrators are participants in the story, they naturally don't bother to provide readers with a background history of Dolvia or space exploration. We are immersed in their world from their points of view, which assume that persons reading their accounts will be familiar with their cultural references and descriptions of the planet and the corporate political system. Fortunately, Atrium provides us with useful glossaries and summaries of the identities of most of the characters. Still, it is a challenge to try to keep track of the multitude of places, people, customs, traditions and folkways mentioned in the novel. It's best if the reader lets go of the attempt to understand everything as it is first introduced in specific detail and instead enjoys the general tone and themes of the novel. In other words, don't worry about the details, as long as you can see the larger story.

The larger story seems to be drawn in large measure from the sad history of imperialism here on the Earth. The "native" cultures of Dolvia are diverse but share a resemblance to "primitive" peoples on our planet who have found themselves subjects of conquest and exploitation by the Western world. Although the first settlers of Dolvia, arriving long before in spaceships, must have been conversant with the Terran technology of their time, the Dolviets we meet in SufferStone live pre-industrial lives of a nomadic and/or agrarian nature, like the lives of Sub-Saharan Africans or American Indians when they first encountered Europeans. They live in harmony with Dolvia and think of the planet as a nurturing entity, generally a female provider and guardian. They are alarmed by the Company's disregard for their sacred places and the corporate drive to strip the planet of its natural resources, including the mining of uranium, "sufferstone", which they wisely think is dangerous and should be left alone. They also bitterly resent the harsh treatment they receive from the Company and the condescending and often hostile attitude of the Hardhand colonists (who strongely resemble the Anglo-American pioneers of the Old West). The brutality of the Company is exemplified by its army of Blackshirts, mercenaries selected for their wllingness to obey any order and their sadistic tendencies. The very name, of course, conjures up sinister images of Hitler's elite SS units employed in the Third Reich's reign of terror across occupied Europe..

Against the brutality and arrogance of the Company are set the courage and innate human decency of the Dolviet rebels and their offworld sympathizers and allies. While the Dolviets have warrior clans that stress manly prowess in battle, they also have brave and intelligent women who serve as leaders and exemplars of the resistance. These include the myserious Kyle Le, one of the Arim sisters, who at one level is set apart as "goulep", a person gifted, or cursed, with second sight and therefore not fit to participate in the normal social life of her tribe, and yet who is looked to as a valuble source of information that will help guide the rebellion. To these Dolviet female freedom fighters are added the resources to the struggle by such Terran women as Heather Osbourne, who becomes an adopted daughter of Dolvia, and Lucy Kempler, a Company chemist first sent to Dolvia to help exploit its natural resources, who becomes appalled by the mistreatment of Dolviet women and children and who, in her clumsy but endearing way, goes over to the side of the natives. And then there is Brian Miller, the "good" invader, sent to advance the conquest who instead becomes a valuable friend of the native resistance, like Kevin Costner's character in "Dances with Wolves".

The story Stella Atrium weaves in SufferStone is partly an allegory for the suffering of native peoples enslaved by colonial regimes, a parable of the arrogance of power and the inhumanity of the profit motive, and a compelling account of human beings striving to make common cause across boundaries of culture and gender. It is told in rich detail and with considerable skill in character development and creation of an absorbing plot in which there is plenty of action but in which the emotional content and thematic treatment of social issues is emphasized. We can look forward to the continuation of this highly intelligent and provocative story in the next volume of the Dolvia Saga. ( )
  ChuckNorton | Jun 2, 2012 |
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