GIRL IN LANDSCAPE
Author: Dan Simmons
Vintage / 288 pages / 26 January 1999
If SF is your preference, this man should need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with Jonathan Lethem, step up and meet the man who’s going to lead you into the esoteric world. He’s got a firm grasp and a twisted genius that will keep you crossing the line for more. Don’t be fooled, though, you’ll find more — but it will never be more of the same. And, please, pay close attention — Lethem doesn’t mumble, and he never repeats himself.
You will find Girl In Landscape is as far-removed from As She Climbed Across The Table, Lethem’s most recent novel, as it is from his debut novel, Gun, With Occasional Music. Hard-boiled, defrosted detectives made room for hallucinogenic time-warps, which gave way to obsessed physicists, and then moved on to the foreign territory of adolescents and other aliens. All without a misstep or fumbled subplot.
The girl in Girl In Landscape is thirteen-year-old Pella Marsh, and she has a problem. For no good reason that she can come up with, she and her family are leaving Earth to resettle on the Planet of the Archbuilders. True, Earth is a dying planet, trapped in its own pollution and unsafe for surface dwelling, but it is HOME. A home her family is leaving, she suspects, because of her father’s failed career.
Despite Pella’s protests and a family tragedy, the move is on. The Planet of the Archbuilders, with its countless, pointless structures, is a huge playground for the Marsh children and the gang they are instantly absorbed into. An arid landscape, populated with the remnants of the great Archbuilders’ race, laced with the aliens’ strange food source, it sustains an even odder mix of expatriate humans.
What happened to the ancient race? Are they harmless simpletons, or something more sinister. And what will happen to the Marsh family when they refuse the “antidote” for Archbuilder sickness? Are the human settlers still truly human? These questions — seen through Pella’s eyes — are partially answered, in Lethem’s dexterous style. The full truth may come more from the reader’s mind than from any straightforward explanation.
Lethem creates a wholly alien setting with wholly alien natives. Along with that, he introduces one of the most intriguing and enchanting indigenous animals in all of science fiction.
Coming-of-age stories are many, in genre as well as mainstream fiction, but it is on Lethem’s distant planet, with little that is human in evidence, that readers will feel the pull of a human bond unlike any they have experienced before.
It is the unnatural settings that make all of Lethem’s novels and short stories foreign territory, at first. But, there is a point early in every piece when the reader relaxes into the rhythm and reason of Lethem’s prose. From this instant until the last page, it is impossible to put Girl In Landscape aside. The book may not be in your hands, but it will be on your mind until you rocket through to the final word.
Don’t relax yet; it is after you add Girl In Landscape to your already sagging shelves that the most intense reflection begins. There is something deep inside Jonathan Lethem’s mind, something we can’t snare, but can’t wait to hunt for the moment it shows a flash of itself.