Michelle Marquardt

Bantam (2002)

ISBN: 186325 251 7

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was originally published in 2007)

Blue Silence is a confident and assured science fiction novel, which I enjoyed a great deal.

The novel focuses on Senator Maya Russini, and is told from her point of view. Maya is a strong character; I realised at the end of the novel that Marquardt had given little indication of Maya’s age or appearance, and not a great deal of information about her past. Despite this, I had a strong sense of her personality and who she was, and I was definitely on her side for much of the novel. Marquardt has an eye for characterisation; her major characters were all strong, distinctive and interesting.

Maya and her Senatorial colleagues on Colony Two have been embroiled in negotiations with their sister colony (Colony One). The two Colonies are both space stations orbiting earth, but have very different lifestyles; Colony One is highly reliant on nano-technology and makes no attempt to create a natural environment. Colony Two has rigorous legislation banning nano-technology, and ensures that parks, gardens, and greenery exist throughout their station. In the past, One has supplied water to Two through their mining operations. But now, One is blackmailing them; they will only sell them water if they also agree to allow nano-technology onto the space station. Colony Two has options, but they’re limited, and if just one thing goes wrong in their attempt to get water from elsewhere, they will be at Colony One’s mercy.

In this strained environment, a space ship arrives on Colony Two. It’s a replica of a space ship that left Earth 180 years ago, manned by seven astronauts. No-one knows what happened to it. Maya is one of the small number of people chosen to make up the initial boarding party for the returned ship, since no-one seems inclined to come out of it. The party discovers 500 aliens, most of them in suspended animation. 250 of them look entirely human; 250 have fangs and claws, despite a strong resemblance to humanity. Things quickly go wrong with this first meeting. The bulk of the story, however, follows the week or so after the aliens are released from quarantine into Colony Two. There’s a lot of political wrangling going on, and Maya is in the thick of it. In addition, she has personal secrets to protect, and it looks as though the aliens’ arrival could inadvertently expose them. On top of all that, despite her fear of the aliens, Maya somehow becomes involved with two of them.

Because the novel is told from Maya’s point of view, we have very little empathy for the aliens. The novel opens with the funeral of one of Maya’s colleagues, who was murdered in front of her eyes by one of the aliens. Understandably, she views them as dangerous, vicious, and unpredictable. Her wariness is in direct contrast to the reactions of other colleagues, including some of those who witnessed the murder. For various reasons, they’re much more willing to accept and accommodate the aliens.

Marquardt has balanced the various strands of her story well. I found the political aspects interesting, but Marquardt has kept this plot fairly simple and fast moving for those with less interest in this aspect. The novel overall is well paced and moves along at a good clip. Marquardt writes smoothly and well, engaging the reader with unobtrusive but enjoyable prose. There’s a touch of thriller about it, perhaps, with a few deaths to be explained. And although this is definitely a science fiction novel, it doesn’t dwell very much on any of the actual science. I didn’t find this a great problem. The world was consistent, and could easily be extrapolated from today’s science – I didn’t really need explanations of how nano-technology works, or how asteroids were mined to produce water. To some extent, I think Marquardt has assumed all her readers have some knowledge of science (or, at least, read enough science fiction to be willing to grant certain things are possible). This worked well and allowed Marquardt to avoid bogging the story down in lengthy speeches where characters explain things to each other.

Marquardt has also done a very good job of personalising the impacts and fears of individuals in a society which is changing. Her main characters, Maya and Ienne both have reasons to want to see change in their society, and to avoid it. In showing us the way these two try to find appropriate compromises and approaches, Marquardt prompts some reflection on the need for change, and the need to try to make sure that good things aren’t wantonly destroyed during change. Colony Two will have to adapt; but how much of its unique character should it give up during that process? How hard should it fight to preserve certain things?

I had one major reservation about this novel. 500 people, half of whom look human, and half of whom look “other”, arrive on Colony Two in a spaceship which is a replica of a spaceship which disappeared 180 years ago. And no-one seems to give more than a passing thought to any questions about this. Who are these people? Why did they come? Why now? Where are they from? What happened to the original astronauts? Why does the replica ship contain technology too recent to be from the original ship, but too limited to be from anywhere but Earth? It really bothered me that no-one seemed particularly worried about these questions. I would have expected that these would have been things of great concern to the Senate, and indeed to all on the Colonies. And yet we were three quarters of the way through the novel before anyone gave any thought to these questions, and even then it was barely more than a passing mention. I didn’t mind that the questions weren’t resolved. This novel covers only about a fortnight, and it’s unlikely those sorts of questions could be addressed in that time. Besides, it might mean there’s a sequel in the works, and that would be worth reading. But I found it incredible that the characters were so uninterested in and unconcerned with those questions. For me, this was a major flaw in that it added a good dose of unreality to what had otherwise been a very realistic novel.

Overall, though, this was a well written and enjoyable science fiction novel. A number of things are not fully resolved, but it is a satisfying ending that makes the novel feel complete. It would be quite possible for a sequel to arise from this, and if so I’d certainly regard it worth reading. This novel will be enjoyed by science fiction readers, and by anyone who enjoys strong characterisation.