As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Saturday, December 15

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Airbags

The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss
Tor Books, 1997, 256 pages.

The premise alone will sell you on this book: a colony of Esperanto-speaking Costa Rican Quakers pack up their bags, abandon a polluted and war-torn earth, and blast off in a colony ship for better world. But The Dazzle of Day's imagination, depth, and eloquence combine with its unique plot to produce an experience entirely out of keeping with its slim size. You can easily see why it was a New York Times notable book of the year when it first appeared in 1997.

Science fiction is not Molly Gloss's genre of choice -- she is mostly known for novels with strong female characters trying to keep it real in the turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest. But the fact that the novel begins with its protagonist straightening the kinks out of solar sails can't hide the act that it is, essentially, a frontier novel. From the Quaker's eventual arrival on the barren planet that will become their home to the delicate balancing act of keeping the peace within the colony ship, the trials and travails of Dazzle's characters are not so different from those of settlers in America's frontier.

In fact, the depth and complexity of Gloss's characters gives them an immediacy which is belied by her somewhat laconic prose. Living in a miniature tropical eco-system, the women who stand in the center of Dazzle say little to mean much. Life is lived over shucking beans, weaving baskets, cooking squash, and attending to the hundreds of small nuances -- so delicately sketched in Gloss's economic, attentive language -- that living off the land atunes one to.

The farms and fields of the colony ship quickly grow to take up the central questions of The Dazzle of Day. In the US today, the Society of Friends struggle to live a Christly life in a world whose inevitable conflicts and struggles make such a goal impossible. In Gloss's extra-terrestrial setting, the problems and promises of living in a small community are magnified. Others groups have attempted to leave the Earth before, and failed -- the eco-systems on their ships collapsed. It is only the Quakers, with their simple living and keen, caring attention to their fields, who have managed to keep a ship-based ecology alive. But even they are not perfect -- occasional sicknesses cause the disappearence of entire species, and there is a good chance the colony may not be indefinitely sustainable. Should they give up the paradise they have lived in for over a century for a cold barren planet, or should they extend their journey by centuries more in hopes of finding a more clement world somewhere else? Or perhaps, as some suggest, they should never leave their protective bubble and live forever on the ship. In Gloss's able hands, a standard science fiction plot device is transformed into a meditation on maturity, change, and community.

Ultimately, The Dazzle of Day is unclassifiable. How can a book about growing squash and baking bread be called science fiction? How can a 'serious' piece of literature feature Space Quakers? Caught between genres, Dazzle is a difficult book to categorize -- which is, perhaps, why we have not heard much about it. More's the pity -- although its hybrid status may make it hard to market, it does not in any way detract from the strength of this quietly illuminating book. Neither here nor there, Dazzle of Day is simply something else altogether: great.

GB store
 

About the Author(s)

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15