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A Woman of the Iron People
by Eleanor Arnason
(1991 hardcover, 1992 paperback (2-volumes), out of print.) Winner of the 1991 Tiptree award, for gender-bending SF


Rating: A+ : a wonderful anthropological first-contact novel. A shining example of why I keep reading SF.

There's always some trepidation when one begins to re-read a fondly- remembered book. Will it hold up? Will it be as good as I remember? Happily, Ms. Arnason's wonderful prose soon caught me once again in her spell....

Lixia, the viewpoint character, is a Hawaiian anthropologist from an Earth still recovering from the excesses of the 20th century. She's nerving herself up to enter her first alien village at Sigma Draconis --

"There was no point in sneaking around. If they caught me spying, I'd be in real trouble. The best thing was to walk right in. The technique hadn't worked in New Jersey, of course. The people there had tried to sacrifice me to their god, the Destroyer of Cities..."

Nia, a woman of the Iron People, is a smith and a pervert - she once loved a man. Her neighbors drove her from their village in disgrace. Now she has a smithy near a village of the Copper People -- the village Lixia had come to study. Lixia's first contact doesn't go well -- she is driven out. Nia takes her in, befriends her, and they become travel companions. The next village they visit is kinder:

"This person without fur is amazing. She knows nothing about anything. But she is willing to listen, and she doesn't interrupt."

Lixia and Nia are joined by Dexter Seawarrior, Ph.D., an Angeleno aborigine. His people prize mellowness and truth; Dexter is devious and ambitious. He left his tribe, went to school, and is now a tenured professor at Berkeley....

The book is filled with complicated people, some of them human, muddling through life.

"When a shamaness of an alien village, having handled for the moment the problem of an alien intruder, walks away complaining aloud, 'Why do these things always happen to me?' the reader knows she's in trustworthy hands. High marks." -- Suzy McKee Charnas

-- plus more nice cover blurbs from P. Sargent, Ch. Platt, MJ Engh, John Sladek, Gw. Jones & UK Le Guin. They liked it, and you will too.

Arnason is a wonderful writer - it's a pity she's not more prolific. Her most recent novel, Ring of Swords (1995), is as strong as "Iron" <g> -- and is in print (US/UK). It's a "hwarhath" novel, as are most of her recent short stories. Hearth World, the sequel to Ring of Swords, is finished but unsold: the publisher of Swords rejected it, and no one else wants to publish a sequel to another publisher's book. Sigh.


Review by Peter D Tillman; More of Peter D Tillman's reviews can be found at: SF Site and Google "Peter D. Tillman" +review for many more!

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© Peter D Tillman 16 September 2000