Walls of Wind: A Science Fiction Novel
“Once you imagine something, you have to follow through.”
This deceptively simple mantra, paraphrased from many authors’ convention talks by the respected late American science fiction writer Lloyd Biggle Jr., is easily the most violated or simply ignored principle in the entire field of speculative writing.
Canadian Jane Ann McLachlan (whose science fiction nom de plume is J.A. McLachlan) not only follows through brilliantly on the vast imaginative journey captured in WALLS OF WIND, but in many memorable ways redefines and elevates one of SF’s most compelling attributes: aliens, of course.
"WALLS OF WIND boldly weaves anthropology, psychology, drama, future history, even meteorology, into a tapestry of viewpoints and epiphanies that propel McLachlan's characters toward a necessary and illuminating change in their collective relationship."
McLachlan’s Bria and Ghen civilizations live on a planet named Wind in reverence for its creator-spirit, whose essence is believed to reside in the movement of air in all its seasons and moods. Both species are single-gendered and cannot procreate on their own; instead, they have developed a highly ritualized symbiotic mating process in order to fertilize, gestate and birth their multiple young. Outside of necessary parenting obligations, their lives are lived separately as a series of short-term relationships in which the basics of affection and even language are rarely shared.
Interestingly, neither culture is discovered or observed as a result of Earth-based humans probing deep space and encountering “others” to colonize, befriend or exploit. In fact, humans and their particular moral understandings of sex, emotion or even ethics never enter the picture at all.
WALLS OF WIND is about highly developed sensual and intellectual beings dealing on their own terms with issues and threats common (we want to believe!) to all sentient life in the universe: survival, growth, aspiration, procreation, discrimination, discovery, governance, and so on.
No matter how many light-years away we fling our curious minds, it’s reasonable to feel that --- one-eyed or many-eyed, one-limbed or many-limbed, hot-blooded or cold-blooded, carbon-based or silicon-based (you name it) --- creatures who think and feel will somehow come to focus on priorities that we too can understand. What else do we have to work with?
By removing her imaginative species as far as humanly possible from the social and moral assumptions we’re all used to, however, McLachlan opens up wider realms for understanding the many-layered areas of gender, relationship and self-awareness.
In ways that habitual SF readers can favorably compare with icons of the genre, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) and Robert J. Sawyer, WALLS OF WIND boldly weaves anthropology, psychology, drama, future history, even meteorology, into a tapestry of viewpoints and epiphanies that propel McLachlan's characters toward a necessary and illuminating change in their collective relationship.
Through a delicate and suspenseful unraveling of myths, symbols and comforting deceptions, McLachlan’s Bria and Ghen face the difficult and frightening truth about a mysterious third species on planet Wind --- aliens encountering aliens! What her characters learn about themselves as a result of this new knowledge is a rich and enthralling experience page after page. If you read no other “alien” authors this year, don’t miss WALLS OF WIND.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch on August 1, 2014