How many books start with an author wondering how they can screw up a character? Drive them insane, torture them, nearly (or actually) kill them? Needless to say, I think World’s End most definitely falls into that category. Unlike the rest of the series, most of the book is told in first person, as compared to the more usual third person. I tis, in fact, a verbal recording of BZ Gundhalinu’s adventures. Yes, BZ has gone from a secondary character in The Snow Queen to a primary character in Tangled Up in Blue, and is now the main character of World’s End. So we really get into his head and see him completely losing his mind as he is still recovering from the events on Tiamat.
I’ll note that the book says this is the “second novel in the cycle,” but a quick check of publication dates explains it. The Snow Queen was published in 1980, and World’s End followed in 1984. Tangled Up in Blue is the latest of the series, dating from 2000. It was likely written to further flesh out the world and revisit it, whereas World’s End existed to further BZ’s character and the plot of the series.
The series always comes back to the sibyls, you see. The dictionary definition calls it a woman who can foretell the future or speak for the gods. In the context of Vinge’s world, sibyls are people who are biologically contaminated in a way that they can interface with a sophisticated machine that contains most human knowledge. People ask questions of sibyls and are connected either with a sibyl on another planet who knows the answer or the vast databanks of the computer where it resides. Sibyls are the key to knowledge, a legacy of the Old Empire that collapsed a thousand years before. The Empire was vaster than anything modern people can imagine, with ships capable of traveling faster than light. However, this technology was lost in the collapse. People say “come the Millenium” now, meaning the return of the stardrive either through innovative research or furious digging into the ruins of the past.
I love World’s End. It is a screwed up, twisted story that grips me and takes me on a crazy adventure. I’m noticing a theme here, as it relates to my enjoyment of C.S. Friedman’s The Madness Season, as well as C.J. Cherryh’s Sunfall, and “In the Flesh” by Steve Perry and John DeCamp (out of Bolos Book 4: Last Stand) among others. None of these stories is quite like any of the others, which is a good thing, because you can only read the same story reiterated so many times. But they all are the kind of story that I find myself randomly contemplating later. Not just minutes or hours later, but months and years later. It’s been at least two years since I last reread World’s End, and I don’t think I read the rest of the series that time.
Funny story, I had two copies of World’s End at one point. This was obviously before I started using an app to keep track of my library (so incredibly helpful when I’m at the used bookstore), but that might not have helped. I had discovered that The Snow Queen had sequels, and determined to find them. So I managed to pick up a copy of World’s End and Tangled Up in Blue relatively quickly, only to discover, when I took another glance in the basement, that my dad already had the former. Oddly enough, I seemed to have two different versions, one with a white cover and one with a black cover. The illustration is identical, and the edition is the same between the two. I don’t know what the difference was, but in the end I kept the black one, because I found it more aesthetically pleasing. I no longer remember which my dad had originally.
The real challenge, when I was collecting the rest of the series, was the bookend to The Snow Queen; The Summer Queen. But I’ll save that story for another day.