Tangled Up in Blue
Joan D. Vinge
Your memory can play tricks on you. When I was a kid--let's say early teens for the sake of argument; I honestly can't remember when exactly this was--Joan D. Vinge was my favorite writer. It started with her Hugo Award-winning 1981 tome, The Snow Queen, a lovely, lengthy tale about a poor farm girl on a distant planet who grows up to be queen. Catspaw followed, and I fell in love with the fictive hero, a telepath who felt so much that he couldn't fit in with normal society. Something in Vinge's work--her lush, evocative scenes, maybe, or her fully fleshed-out characters--spoke to the young introvert I was quickly becoming, so much so that the instant I finished these novels I turned around and read them again.
I can't quite pinpoint when Vinge and I parted ways. Her 1991 sequel to Snow Queen, The Summer Queen--the story of a farm girl turned queen who discovers that leadership isn't as easy as one might think--was good, but not so good that I stayed up all night to finish it. The real end of relationship may have been Dreamfall, a continuation of Catspaw that was almost painful to read because of its sappiness. By this point, I couldn't even remember why I had ever loved Vinge's books.
Vinge's latest, Tangled Up in Blue, is set in the same universe and with some of the same characters as the Queen books, but Blue is more murder mystery/thriller than character study. On the backwater planet of Tiamat, which serves as backdrop for a few of Vinge's novellas as well, the police force is comprised of off-worlders who are stuck in Tiamat's corrupt government. The so-called blues' hands are tied by arcane rules, so much so that they don't police so much as shuffle paperwork. But there is a secret underground of cops who break the law to preserve order, and this is where the mystery begins.
Only, it doesn't really. Gone is the taut plotting that made Vinge's earlier books such a pleasure. Gone is the detailed character development that breathed life into her creations. Without either of those, Blue reads more like a slightly fleshy outline than an honest-to-goodness book. Plus, Vinge does the unthinkable to her thriller--she telegraphs her ending about three-quarters of the way through the book. Once she tips her hand, it's hard to keep reading.
My recent experiences with Vinge's work are making me doubt my memory. When time permits, I'll again submerse myself in the books that touched my heart and mind with fantastic images and lasting emotions. But I'm frightened that I may find out that these fond memories are simply another trick of time and youth