Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: J.M. Frey's Triptych Deserves an Aurora Nomination

J.M. Frey's first novel, Triptych, reminds me of the stories of Walter Tevis. Tevis, the author of The Man Who Fell to Earth and Mockingbird, did not write hard sci-fi, with its intricate technology and scientific theories. He came from the school of science fiction that examined the social sciences and societal and cultural issues. Among those writers, he was a master in depicting human relationships, personal drama, and loneliness and other emotions. Triptych reminds me of a Walter Tevis novel in style and theme. But despite the similarities, J.M. Frey is not imitating Tevis. She has a distinct style of her own.

In short, Triptych is about Kalp, one of many aliens who have arrived on Earth after their home planet has died. The government assigns several humans, including Gwen and Basil, to assist the aliens to integrate into life on Earth. One thing leads to another, and Kalp, Gwen, and Basil form a threesome where Kalp is husband to both Gwen and Basil, Basil is husband to both Kalp and Gwen, and Gwen is wife to both Kalp and Basil. You get the idea.

But not everyone is at peace with this type of future. Someone goes back in time to kill young Gwen, and someone is out to get Kalp.

I enjoyed Triptych's development of the relationships. Kalp, Gwen, and Basil are hardly the ideal lovers from a category romance, but they're not the usual dysfunctional couple/threesome that many writers use when they want to appear profound.

J.M. Frey divides the book into sections told from each of the main character's viewpoints. The characters are all well-developed and have distinct personalities and voices. Kalp's memories of his old world and its destruction are especially haunting.

And kudos to J.M. Frey for not portraying the main characters' enemies as easy straw dogs, for example, the Christians, Republicans, white Alabamans, and other stock characters that usually exist only in "fundamentalist" flavour in science fiction. It has become de rigeur in Canadian science fiction to stereotype and demonize so-called fundies and conservatives, but Triptych doesn't follow the trend. Frey, thankfully, wrote a novel about real people.

By the way, Aurora Award nominations for 2012 are open until March 31 (see Let's encourage the small presses like Dragon Moon to publish more books like Triptych. Get Triptych, read it, and if you like it, nominate it for Best Novel - English.

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