RogerBW's Blog

Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Melissa Scott 07 July 2023

1985 SF, first of a trilogy. Space pilot Silence Leigh is stuck on a world in which women are literally second-class citizens, marooned by the death of her grandfather and legal entanglements over his will. And there's a starship in the balance…

This is more a picaresque than anything else. A stranger offers to speak for Silence (she has no standing to speak for herself), and has a slightly odd business proposition for her. But if it'll let her fly, it's at least worth a look… then things go awry, and there are captures and escapes and mystical experiences.

But it's the pilotage that's one of the most important things here. Starships are lifted by keels of the Philosopher's Metal as it's caused to resonate in or out of tune with planetary or other influences; and for interstallar flight, they move into purgatory, some part of the way to heaven. And one navigates by something like a vision quest, following a series of images, which are jealously guarded in pilots' personal books. It's both gloriously fun and appropriately perilous.

The other main plank of the book is the three-way relationship in which Silence finds herself, at first a marriage of convenience, but gradually growing into friendship. There's very much a feeling of us against the world, because even the allies aren't anything like good guys. And what's going on with the rumours of a route to lost Earth?

It's quite bitty and spends more time showing us various bits of the world than developing the characters – but there's a decent amount of that too. An enjoyable start to the trilogy.

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Series: The Roads of Heaven | Next in series: Silence in Solitude

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