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Common and Precious

by Tim Susman

(Sofawolf Press, 2007. US$17.95 trade paperback, 310 pages. ISBN: 0-9769212-9-4.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

Welcome to New Tibet. It's cold, and not just the weather. New Tibet is a colony world, variously run by powerful corporations and organized crime rings (which often overlap). It is populated by "huminals," or "New People," as the prologue explains: animals modified to have human sentience and dexterity. The cold matters little to the arctic foxes, wolves, Siberian tigers, snowshoe hares, lemmings, and other species who call the place home.

Tiger Melinda has grown up in a privileged position -- a warm apartment, servants, plenty of food -- luxuries not common on New Tibet. Her father Barda holds a high position in both the corporate and criminal chains of command. But that doesn't help Meli when she gets kidnapped and held for ransom. It turns out that the motive is not simple greed, but rather a desperate need for medical supplies. So begins Meli's introduction to the other side of life on New Tibet.

"Life is common. Life is precious." The sign hangs on the hospital wall where Meli's kidnappers have taken her. To her, it refers only to the "precious ones" in the upper class; but to Shamil and Cab and the other kidnappers, it means everyone. Even Meli. Even the ghosts who dwell over the bridge in Ghost Town, the only warm place on the planet. The more she sees, the harder it gets for Meli to cling to the worldview she grew up with, for both lines of the sign are equally true.

This is a coming-of-age story and a social class analysis; but it's also a great novel, dark and bitter as fine chocolate. New Tibet itself is strangely seductive, standing out from a starfield of interchangeable science fiction settings. The characters are noble and base, gallant and exasperating, and within pages you care deeply what happens to them -- and you already know it's not likely to be good, on New Tibet, which creates a humming tension that underlies the entire story.

If you liked George Orwell's Animal Farm, then you'll love Common and Precious. It takes allegory further, presenting a fully developed work of literature with characters who grow and change throughout the story. It's about them ... but it's about us, too, and the good and bad choices that people can make. Highly recommended.

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