Science Fiction in a Fantasy World: Jane Lindskold’s Artemis Awakening

Jane Lindskold has written or co-written twenty-two novels to date, in a career spanning twenty years. Artemis Awakening is her twenty-third, and the first novel in a new series.

It’s a pretty good read.

The planet of Artemis was created by a technologically advanced human empire as a rustic, “primitive,” playground for its most elite citizens. Technology was concealed, and the human and animal inhabitants of Artemis were biologically and socially engineered to help their guests enjoy their visits. But the empire fell apart in a terrible war, and its successors lost many of their technological marvels.

No one from the outside universe has come to Artemis in five hundred years. Not until ambitious young archaeologist/historian* Griffin Dane crashes his shuttle on the planet in the course of attempting to make his name with its rediscovery. Rescued from the wreck by Adara the Huntress and her companion animal, the puma called Sand Shadow, his initial excitement turns to eagerness to find a way to get home. Together with Adara and another Artemisian called Terrell, with the assistance of Adara’s mentor Bruin, he travels to the town of Spirit Bay, to meet a man known as the Old One Who Is Young, who has lived decades longer than anyone else and studied the remains of Artemis’ former rulers. But the Old One has his own agenda and his own secrets, and if they’re not careful, Griffin, Adara, and Terrell will all fall prey to his plans.

*For an archaeologist, his approach to recording could use an enormous amount of work. I’m just saying. Standards have gone down in this high-tech future.

The saying goes that fantasy has trees and castles and wizards, while science fiction has metal and electrons and technicians. Science fiction, as Damon Knight pointed out in 1967, is what we point to when we say science fiction, and in Artemis Awakening, Lindskold has written a science fiction novel with the sensibility of a fantasy. The novel takes place entirely on the planet Artemis, and after his arrival, Griffin is limited to the technology of the Artemisians. The Artemisians call their former rulers the “seegnur,” and have elaborate lore and religions about them: the sense evokes the one common in many fantasy novels, of a culture grown up in the wake of a great civilisation’s fall. This mood of the fantastic is increased by the presence of “adapted” humans and animals among the Artemisians. Adara is one such, with some of the abilities of a cat, like claws and night vision, while Sand Shadow is intelligent, telepathically linked with Adara, and possesses opposable thumbs. Intelligent animals are a feature of many of Lindskold’s books (as with the Firekeeper series), but the presence of a “companion animal” or two here is kept from being cutesy by the fact that the animals in question don’t have POV, and are also well-characterised as individual animals, rather than humans with fur.

The Old One’s plans involve breeding for the adaptations the seegnur built into some of Artemis’s inhabitants. How he goes about this entails repeated rape, forced pregnancy, and other things of this ilk: it is described second-hand and not graphically, but it is unambiguously present. I don’t feel I should judge its inclusion, but I confess I find the presence of sexual violence, however second-hand, rather wearying. Wearying also is the novel’s lack of diversity. I cannot recall if it in fact even succeeds in passing the Bechdel test, but if it does, it does so only by the narrowest of margins.

Unless we count Sand Shadow as a woman, that is.

That aside, Artemis Awakening is an enjoyable read. We see the world mostly through Griffin’s eyes, with some of Adara’s perspective, and this is a good choice: it means we are discovering the world of Artemis alongside Griffin, as he slowly comes to learn more about the planet on which he’s been stranded. The developing friendships between Griffin, Adara and Terrell are well-drawn, and while the pacing isn’t thriller-plot hectic, Lindskold keeps a solid level of tension and suspense throughout. The climax and conclusion is entertainingly taut.

I’m withholding judgment on the presence of psychic and precognitive gifts until we see what direction the sequels will take them. It is often said that in science fiction and fantasy the world is a character: with Artemis Awakening, it is revealed at the very end that in Artemis’ case, this is quite literally true. It is an interesting twist, and one that makes me curious to see what Lindskold will do with the next volume in the series.

Despite its flaws, Artemis Awakening is a fun, engaging read. Fans of Lindskold’s previous work, and those looking for an adventure combining SFnal and fantastic sensibilities, should give it a try.

 

Artemis Awakening is available May 27th from Tor Books.
Read an Excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com


Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.

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