Saturday, April 28, 2018

Book Review: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Paperback, 274 pages

Published July 11th 2017 by John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books

Winner of the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award

I feel a little ashamed to have never read a Carrie Vaughn book. Her Mars Abroard book seems up my alley and she has been doing it long enough that I was surprised she slipped my notice. This novel got on my radar because it won the 2017 Philip K. Dick award. In my new role as co-host of a PKD podcast I felt I should check it out. I am glad I did because this novel hits many of my sweet spots. Post-apocalyptic,political, and thoughtful plot-driven speculative fiction. Yep.

A little heads up...I am interviewing Vaughn to be the first guest interview on the Dickheads podcast. When that happens I will add it back into this post. (of course you can follow Dickheads on Facebook/soundcloud/twitter/instagram to get right away)

Bannerless takes place a few generations after a economic and environmental collapse along the California coast. Our main character Enid lives in a utopian village known as Haven. Her aunt who had recently died was the last to remember the time before. Enid is a investigator, the closest thing these villages have to law enforcement. The villages operate from an almost anarchist ideal of mutual aid, so the investigators are not often needed. They are mostly called to settle disputes.

The most important law is the one that balances the ecology. The right to reproduce is tightly restricted by a implant that all women are given. Families are structured beyond what we think of is a nuclear family and once a they can prove they have the ability to support a child they are given a Banner to hang outside their house. That banner is the permission. One of the biggest crimes in this world is having a Bannerless child.

The main story however is not directly about a Bannerless child, Enid and her mentor Tomas are set to a smaller village to investigate a accidental death with a suspicious nature. Vaughn applies a structure that goes back and forth between the current events of the investigation and a young Enid who traveled the west coast with a guitar playing busker named Dak. The flashbacks are used perfectly to do the bulk of the world building, and set up some key parallels and reversals.

I went in cold and I think the less you know the better.

While very worthy of the Philip K Dick award the author's work that Bannerless reminds me more of in tone and subject matter is Ursula Leguin. While Vaughn has her own voice I mean this with the upmost respect. The coast road is a future post end of the world novel and there is a fine tradition of novels like this set in California from Leguin's Always Coming Home, Gene O'Neil's Cal Wild books and Kim Stanley Robinson's Three California trilogy. Bannerless is a strong entry in this sub-genre.

The world building is subtle but well done, the political nature of the story is so softly delivered and well woven into the story that Vaughn could not be accused of being heavy handed. Since this is a book 1 I suspect that future installments will be less subtle with the message. CV did an excellent job setting up the Bannerless child concept and then only slightly uses it. I suspect it will come into play next time at the forefront. We have a template for a story that can express issues related to reproductive rights, ecological and social justice issues.

Bannerless is a top notch read. 5/5 stars and I hope everyone check it out.

Dickheads interview on Youtube:

The Dickheads interview on Soundcloud:

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