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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, January 03, 2005

Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards

Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards (Laurie R. King). New York: Bantam Books, 2004. ISBN: 0-553-58667-X

Technically, this book is science fiction. It is set in a near post-21st century setting in which a biological warfare agent is accidentally unleashed, spreading a virus that kills many, leading to a general collapse of modern civilization, but perhaps more importantly, affects men much more readily than women, so that in the remaining population, men are a rare and valued minority. Women do most of the work, all of the fighting, pretty much all of the dangerous tasks, as men are far too valuable to be risked in this way.

I said, "technically science fiction" because it is really only the setting that falls into that genre. The actual story is played out in a pre-industrial society which has reverted to its agrarian roots, but with strong overtones of the Amazonian mythical archetype, a society of and by women. The collapse of civilization theme is an often used, even abused theme in classic science fiction, however, and this book makes a strong contribution to the genre.

The story is apparently based, to what degree I'm in no position to judge, on a 16th century romance by the Spanish writer Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo titled Las Sergas de Esplandián. In it, an island in the Indies is described, named California, "which was inhabited by black women, without a single man among them, and that they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body, with strong and passionate hearts and great virtues." Their queen was named Califia, hence the book's title. At any rate, the author takes brief quotes from an English translation as her chapter headings.

The story itself is written with King's usual style and flare, and is definitely a page turner, especially as it reaches its climax, although it takes quite a while to get going. I'm not sure why King wrote the book under a pseudonym, since there is a note "About the author" at the end of the book which gives the real name away, and the book is listed on King's web site. Definitely recommended for Laurie King fans, as well as for fans of the fall of civilization genre within science fiction.

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