The Snow Queen - Tor/Forge Blog



#FearlessWomen We Admired Growing Up

Whether we got into science fiction and fantasy as kids or adults, there were plenty of women in the pages of our favorite books that inspired us. The fearless women in these books taught us how to be adventurous, how to be strong, and how to be self-confident. Here are just a few of our favorite women of the science fiction and fantasy books we read growing up. Who’s on your list?

Phèdre nó Delaunay from Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey

Image Place holder  of - 7 While the scale of Jacqueline Carey’s first Kushiel trilogy is breathtaking, there is no better guide to this lushly imagined world than Phèdre nó Delaunay. Trained as a spy and a courtesan, Phèdre was constantly underestimated—even by herself. But as she was thrown into increasingly dangerous situations and emerged triumphant (if often a bit bloody), her self-confidence grew until she took her rightful place as one of the more powerful women in Terre d’Ange. Her journey from scared, unwanted child to intelligent, powerful, sex-positive woman was an inspiration.

Lauren Oya Olamina from Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Placeholder of  -96 The future that Octavia Butler painted in the first Earthseed novel is a bleak one. Lauren, the teenage protagonist, suffers from hyperempathy, meaning she feels the emotions of those around her, from pain and fear to happiness. When her community is destroyed and Lauren sets off on a journey to create a new home, that hyperempathy makes her journey even more difficult. Confronting racism, sexism, and physical danger at every point along the way, Lauren was the kind of teenager we looked up to: strong, determined, intelligent, charismatic, and above all, caring.

Simsa from Forerunner by Andre Norton

Image Placeholder of - 47 In the very first novel Tor ever published, our main point-of-view character is Simsa, the orphaned Burrower who dreams of more. After having to hide her differences for most of her short life, Simsa starts to take chances when her caregiver, the not-so-caring Ferwar, dies. The adventures Simsa had with Starman Thom made us long for a chance to go on a hunt for a long lost city of our own—especially if we got to have our own zorsal (a batlike creature) as we did it!

Ti-Jeanne from Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Place holder  of - 88 Hopkinson’s powerful 1998 debut novel about a young woman rising up against the powers that be takes place in a futuristic Toronto that’s been ravaged by economic downturn and vicious gangs. In the Burn, the slums at the center of the city, a pregnant Ti-Jeanne moves back in with her grandmother after leaving her drug-addicted boyfriend. Her grandmother is respected in their Caribbean-Canadian community as an herbalist and Obeah (seer), but Ti-Jeanne has always rejected her grandmother’s spiritualism. But when Ti-Jeanne’s boyfriend runs afoul of a local gang who wants him to harvest a human heart for a powerful politician, she discovers the power of magic, reconnecting with both her grandmother and her culture. We loved following Ti-Jeanne’s journey as she finds the strength within herself, and recognizes the strength that’s always existed in the women in her family.

Arienrhod and Moon from The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

Poster Placeholder of - 74 Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen was a staple fairy tale of many of our childhoods. So when we learned that Joan D. Vinge had adapted into a science fiction novel, we were incredibly excited. Plus, in a time when most science fiction novels were dominated by male main characters, Vinge’s The Snow Queen was full of women—and women in power, at that. The story focused on the power struggle between the titular Snow Queen, Arienrhod, and the Summer-tribe sibyl, Moon. Add in Vinge’s spectacular worldbuilding, and we desperately wished we could visit the planet Tiamet and meet the women who ruled there.

Jessica from My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Jessica and David are happily married, with a wonderful 5-year old daughter. Until Jessica makes a startling discovery—David is actually 500 years old. Due is a master of beautiful prose and horrifying plot twists. This beloved dark classic combines history, horror, and the supernatural, but what really stands out is watching Jessica fight for herself and her daughter. When a beloved partner turns unexpectedly different and alien (alas, not something not just found in fiction), Jessica’s struggle sparks both chills and cheers for her courage.

Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

If there was ever a book that demonstrated that there’s more than one kind of strength, it’s Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. Rather than strength of arms, swinging a sword at her every problem, Sorcha’s is the strength of endurance—the ability, thanks to her love of her family, to continue on her journey despite difficulty after difficulty, heartbreak after heartbreak. Marillier’s story is lyrical and atmospheric, and tore us to pieces over and over again. And it was worth every tear.

Lessa from the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Imagine surviving the slaughter of your family. Imagine hiding in plain site in your ancestral home, constantly performing back-breaking labor as a drudge in the home you should rule. And then imagine walking away when the opportunity arises to take back your legacy and your home, because the world at large needs your help. That’s only part of the journey taken by Lessa of Ruth, later Lessa of Pern, in the first of Anne McCaffrey’s iconic Dragonriders of Pern series. Her strength, and her bond with her queen dragon, were things we truly envied when we first read Dragonflight. Add in magnificent dragons, the deadly threat of threads, and a stubborn population that doesn’t believe in the coming danger, and you have a winning combination.

Kerewin Holmes from The Bone People by Keri Hulme

Any woman who would rather live in a tower made of seashells and books than be around other humans is already the kind of heroine we love. But, more than this, Kerewin on a quest to save not the world, not her country of New Zealand, but to rediscover her own artistic voice. An artist who can no longer look inside herself to make art, she is forced to connect with a young, mute European boy who has washed up on her beach from a mysterious shipwreck. The boy’s Maori foster father also provides a painful lesson on love and destruction that paints a vivid, fantastical portrait of Maori myth, post-colonialism, and redemption.


Excerpt: World’s End by Joan D. Vinge

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Placeholder of  -75 When BZ Gundhalinu’s irresponsible older brothers go missing in World’s End, a badlands rumored to drive people mad, he begrudgingly goes after them. The further in he travels, the stranger things get. World’s End, book two of Joan Vinge’s beloved Snow Queen cycle of classic science fiction is back in print, available December 26th!

DAY 1.


Today I arrived at World’s End. It’s still difficult for me even to believe I’m thinking those words.

But I’ve decided to record everything I experience here, as completely as possible. The notes of a reasonably objective observer can only be an improvement over the mass of lurid misinformation about this place. And if anything should happen—never mind.…

The shuttle trip from Foursgate was uneventful to the point of tedium. I could almost have believed that I was simply another tourist sightseeing on a strange world … except that there were only two other people on the flight, and neither one of them looked pleased about their destination. I didn’t speak to them, and they returned the favor. The sky was overcast for almost the entire trip; I saw nothing of the world so far below. For all I knew we could have been circling Foursgate for two hours instead of covering half a planet.

When we landed the terminal was exactly like half a dozen others I’ve seen here on Number Four—a masterpiece of the banality that passes for modern on this world. The planetwide Port Authority runs its franchises with the same mindless efficiency wherever they are—even at the end of the world.

As I crossed the invisible climate-control barrier that separated the terminal from the real world outside, I finally began to realize that I had come to World’s End … I had really made the Big Mistake.

The heat was suffocating. The air was so thick with moisture and strange odors that breathing itself was difficult. I dropped the bags that held the few belongings I’d brought with me, and looked for some sort of transportation. If there was anything, even a ground vehicle, it wasn’t running. The two locals who had been on my flight passed me wordlessly and began walking away down a cinder track. I thought I could see some sort of buildings in the distance, which I assumed were the town. A jungle of unwholesome-looking plant life pressed in on the road and the terminal. There were black scorch marks where the flora had been burned back recently along the roadsides. I took off my heavy jacket, picked up my belongings, and began to walk.

I stopped again as I reached a gateway at the edge of town.


Someone had scrawled on the blistered wall, complete with the official seals:


It struck me like a slap in the face, a grotesque insult. I stared at it until the tension of my clenched jaw made my face hurt—made me remember who I’m not, here. I said to myself, “It’s not your problem.”

I looked through the gateway, feeling as if someone were watching me. But the shuttered whiteness of the street was empty; the buildings lay dazed in the insufferable humidity of the early afternoon. I stood there awhile longer, feeling the sweat crawl down my chest beneath the coarse cloth of my loose blue tunic; suddenly I longed for the security of a uniform. My head began to throb with the silent rhythm of the heat … and all at once the whiteness of the street seemed to shimmer and re-form as endless fields of snow. A mirage, a hallucination—I’ve seen it a hundred times. You’d think a sane man would be able to put it out of his mind, after so long.… I hunched my shoulders, feeling a chill as I went on through the gate.

The first thing I did in the town was buy a sun helmet and a drink of cold water—they don’t give away anything here, not even water. This is the Company’s town, as the shopkeeper informed me, not a resort. The conglomerate that controls World’s End is known as Universal Processing Consolidated, back in Foursgate. But out here they are simply the Company, the only, and they’ve grown bloated and corrupt on their monopolistic exploitation. Their presence is everywhere as you walk the streets—on signs, on people’s lips, on their dreary uniform coveralls. No one looks at anyone else for longer than they have to here; but I still felt as though hidden eyes followed me constantly.

This town seems to have no name. It certainly has no individual identity. It exists to serve the Company, as a supply center and as a bottleneck for the countless fortune hunters drawn to World’s End year after year—all of them certain they’ll be the ones to strike it rich. The Company tolerates a limited number of independent prospectors who want to explore the wilderness, who are willing to run risks that even the Company won’t in searching out resources. It takes no responsibility for their fates, but it takes half of their profits, if any. They get their permits here; I suppose I’ll have to enquire about that.

World’s End is an obsession for too many of them, the fools. I suppose it’s worthy, even fitting, that it should be. World’s End is a canker at the heart of Number Four’s largest continent, millions of kilometers of terrain that are still virtually unknown after centuries of Hegemonic control. There’s been good reason to explore it, and to believe in the tales of fortunes for the taking; the Company is proof enough of that. The profits they’ve taken out of the wastes have made Universal Processing more powerful on Number Four than anything but the Planetary Council. Rich ores lie hidden out there, veins of precious minerals, fist-sized gemstones—unimaginable wealth.

But while the wasteland flaunts its treasures, it defies human efforts to fully exploit them. Even the Company is powerless in the end, in World’s End. At the center of the wasteland is Fire Lake, a vast sea of molten rock seeping up out of the planet’s core like blood from a wound. Official reports would have one believe that it’s no more than a weak spot in the planetary crust. But they don’t—can’t—explain the bizarre electromagnetic phenomena that spread out from Fire Lake: distortions that corrupt instrumental readings and turn their carefully collected data into gibberish. There are half a hundred unofficial explanations as well, which claim that Fire Lake hides everything from a black hole the size of an atom to the gateway to hell.

None of the explanations satisfies me any better than having no explanation at all does. Ever since I’ve been on Number Four I’ve thought that if they’d bring in the best equipment—and Kharemoughi Technicians to operate it decently—they’d get the truth. The Company has poured fortunes into a solution and come away with nothing. Even the sibyls couldn’t give them an answer—and sibyls are supposed to be able to answer any question. Probably they just haven’t asked the right ones.

If a decent answer existed, there wouldn’t be any mystery to confound the Company or lure an endless stream of self-deluded wretches into itself and swallow them whole. Hundreds of people disappear out here every year, and are never heard from again.…

If a decent answer existed, I wouldn’t be here, waiting to follow them. I don’t belong in this sweltering hole, with a lot of bloody fools and fanatics, all searching for an escape from responsibility or from the past; for a handout from fate, for answers without questions. I’m not like them. I have no choice about being there, duty and family honor demand it.

My brothers are the self-deluded fools. They’ve been missing out there for the better part of a year now. Difficult to believe, when it seems like only yesterday that I looked up and saw them standing before me, as unexpected as ghosts. I can still hear their voices, every word of the incredulity that passed between them as they saw the scars on my wrists. “Gedda. Gedda…” they whispered, repeating the hateful name that I so justly deserved.

I turned my back on them, staring out at the city through the windows of my office, waiting until their voices died of shame.

They wouldn’t ask me the reason for the scars, why I still bore them, why I still lived. Nothing in the code of our class tells them how to ask. So I faced them again, finally, and asked them what they were doing here on Number Four, years away from the family estates and holdings back on Kharemough. “And what do you want from me?”

“Do we have to want something besides to see you, after so long?” HK asked inanely.

“Yes,” I said.

And so SB said, “We’ve come to make our fortune. We were only passing through here, anyway. We’re on our way to World’s End.” Anticipating my disapproval, he tried to stare me down, still the impulsive bully.

I’ve faced down a lot of stares like that in the years since I left home. “Don’t try to feed me sand, SB,” I told him. “Some of us do grow up.”

His pale freckles reddened. “I’d forgotten what a self-righteous little bore you always were.”

I hadn’t forgotten anything. I kept the desk terminal like a barrier between us. “You know, they have a name for what you plan to do, around here. They call it the Big Mistake.” I turned to HK, still surprised to see graying hair above that familiar, self-indulgent face. The florid, shining-surfaced robe he wore hardly flattered his obvious bulk. I wondered why he didn’t wear the traditional uniform that was his proper dress as head of family. “I’d expect him to make a mistake that big. But I never thought I’d meet you halfway across the galaxy from our ancestors, or the … your estates.” I cleared my throat. “Things must be better than I remember, if you can leave your business holdings headless for so long. Or do you have a spouse by now, and an heir?” The sublight trips to and from the Black Gates added up to several years passed at home before they could return. I try not to keep track of the relativistic time lags that separate me from my past—it becomes an exercise in masochism too easily—but I knew that nearly two decades had passed on Kharemough since I’d last prayed at our family shrine. Since the last time I saw my father alive.… Memory stabbed me with sudden treachery, showing me a face—a woman’s face, her skin and hair as pale as moonlight, the trefoil tattoo of a sibyl on her throat. The face I always saw when I tried to see my father’s face, ever since Tiamat. I looked up at my brothers, my own face hot.

But HK was staring at the backs of his hands as though they belonged to a stranger. “No heir … and no estates.”

“What?” I whispered. But one look at their faces and I knew. I leaned on the desk, straining forward. “No.”

“… lost them … bad investments … didn’t foresee … SB’s associates…”

I could barely focus on HK’s words. The diarrhea of his excuses told me nothing, and everything. Images of Kharemough filled my mind: my world, the only world, the only life worth living. The life I’ve given up forever, because of my scars. I’d been able to live with its loss only because I could believe that whatever shame I’d brought on myself, my family’s reputation remained untouched, the memory of my ancestors immaculate, as long as I stayed away. Their continuity and their ashes lay securely in the land that had been my family’s since Empire times—proof of our intellect and our honor. But now, after so many centuries, our estates belonged to someone else … and so did our heritage. Some social-climbing lowborns with money for honor burned incense to my ancestors; claimed my family, with all its accomplishments, for their own. A thousand years of tradition destroyed in a moment. And all because of me.

“… barely had the funds to finance this trip … World’s End … only hope of ever recovering the family holdings … help us regain the estate, and the honor…”

A silvery chiming broke across HK’s words, silencing him. He reached into the pocket on his sleeve distractedly and pulled out the watch. The heirloom watch, the Old Empire relic that my mother had restored and given to my father for a wedding gift. It must have been an anachronistic curiosity even when it was new—a handheld timepiece, that did nothing but tell time. Even my mother hadn’t been certain how old it really was. As a child I had played with it endlessly, obsessed by all that it stood for. I could still see every alien creature engraved on its golden surface, feel the subtle forms of limb and jeweled eye under the loving touch of my fingers. The watch was the one remembrance that my father had left specifically to me in his will. But HK had kept it for himself.

“Get out.” I held my voice together somehow as I touched my terminal, opening the door behind them. “Get out of here, before I…” Words failed me. “Go to hell in your own way! I don’t want to know about it.”

HK drew himself up like a beached clabbah, straining for dignity. “I should have known better than to appeal to your honor.” Failing at dignity, and at irony.

SB caught HK’s arm and pulled him toward the open door, glancing back once, to spit at me, “Gedda.” And after that I didn’t hear from them again. I told myself good riddance.

But instead of forgetting about them, I’ve followed them into World’s End. I can’t believe I’ve done this … the thought of just spending a night in this squalid town is enough to make any reasonable person take the next shuttle back to civilization. And it’s not as if they went off for a holiday week and forgot the time. They disappeared, into an uncharted wilderness! They were totally unprepared for what they did—neither one of them ever attempted anything more dangerous before this than spending all day in the baths. If the wasteland didn’t kill them, the human animals who inhabit it probably did, and picked their bones for good measure. Am I really going out there to let the same thing happen to me—?

When I was a boy, my nurse told me stories of the Child Stealer, who stole highborn babies and replaced them with cretinous Unclassifieds. For years I was sure that it must have happened to HK and SB.… They chose their fate, and if World’s End swallowed them without a trace, they got what they deserved. They left no one and nothing behind, except me … left me with nothing but memories.

But since they’re gone I’m head of family now … a title as hollow as it is unexpected. And they are still my brothers. That makes it my duty to search for them; my responsibility to all our ancestors—who will be my ancestors forever, whatever strangers violate my family’s honor and claim my blood as their own. But still, if it weren’t for Father, for what I owe to him …

If it weren’t for me, none of this would have happened.

But even if I’m a failure, I’m not a fool. I have training that HK and SB never had, I have the experience to help me search for them. This isn’t impossible.…

Besides, if I left here now, what would I go back to? My job? I can’t even do that competently anymore. They don’t want to see my face back in Foursgate until I can perform my duties again. Ever since my brothers came to this world, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost all control of my life.

I’ve got to give myself enough time for this search—time to find out what it is I’ve lost, and how to get it back … to find out whether it even matters.


Copyright © 1984 by Joan D. Vinge

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On The Radical Notion That Women Are People

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
Written by Joan D. Vinge

Around 1970, feminism (“the radical notion that women are people” —Marie Shear) began inspiring many women to realize that if they loved science fiction, they could write it too. So they did, and became published writers of science fiction in significant numbers. The thing that impressed me about this trend was not just that editors actually bought their work, but that they published it with a woman’s name on it.

I felt that science fiction was actually living up to its reputation, sociopolitically as well as technologically—embracing change and acknowledging the movement toward greater equality between the sexes at a much faster rate than society in general. Women science fiction writers had seemingly been welcomed into the newly diverse field by a majority of readers.

In 1976 I was invited to write the cover story for Analog Magazine’s “Special Women’s Issue.” (This led a female friend to remark “Joan D. Vinge and her All-Girl Band,” and I responded that I “half expected it to contain recipes for ‘Martian Casseroles’.”) It was, I was perfectly aware, still a kind of publicity stunt…but the key word there was “publicity.” I felt that if it got people who were reluctant to read SF by women to give it a try, many of them would find they enjoyed the stories, and it would help all women writers. My cover story, “Eyes of Amber,” won me my first Hugo Award in 1978, for Best Novelette. (I found out that year that someone—in Vegas?—was making book on who was going to win the Hugos. The odds against “Eyes of Amber” were 40 to 1. I really wish I’d known that in time to put down a bet on it.)

By then, I had basically finished writing The Snow Queen, a novel in which I set out specifically to explore as wide a variety of female characters as I could (while neither ignoring male characters nor demonizing them). I did this because at the time there were still relatively few science fiction novels with even one female protagonist. The Snow Queen went on to give me some of the peak moments of my life: it got a rare quote from Arthur C. Clarke praising it, [the first edition] had a cover painting by Leo and Diane Dillon, an award-winning husband-and-wife team who were among my all-time favorite artists, and it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1981.

Most of the science and technology that could make the future history of The Snow Queen a reality were still over the horizon when I wrote it. Some of the science was even considered impossible by researchers. Since then, however, advances in—for example—quantum physics have brought the existence of parallel dimensions and faster-than-light travel into the realm of serious science; advances in biology and computer technology have moved things like cloning and nanotechnology into public discourse.

On the other hand, the plot of The Snow Queen concerns ecological issues like climate change and the impact of population growth, as well as the threat of extinction faced by endangered species. It also deals with the kind of politics that inevitably lead to the technological-and-financial haves exploiting the have nots; with foreigners stripping a world of valuable resources, aided by the corrupt government of the exploited world; with strained relationships and tense interactions centered on equal rights, and conflict among people from various cultures who find each others’ values completely alien.

When I wrote about those issues in The Snow Queen, in the latter half of the 1970s, they were contemporary concerns that had emerged from “The Sixties,” an era of sociopolitical upheaval which reached a peak in the protest and eventual public repudiation of the Vietnam War, which was at its height from about 1965 to 1973.

It’s both gratifying (from a literary standpoint) and disheartening (from a social one) that thirty-five years after I wrote about issues that are as much social science as hard science, they’re still as relevant as they were then. I hope that readers of The Snow Queen will do a little “compare and contrast,” not just between the present day and the novel, but also between the present day and the last half century. In the meantime, I’m glad that science fiction—especially science fiction by women, and even a novel written over three decades ago—still has something to teach us about the present and the future.

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