Tuesday, July 18, 2017

HIGH COUCH OF SILISTRA, by Janet Morris: A Review


Book 1 
Janet Morris'
The Silistra Quartet

This is a novel that changed the game for women characters in science fiction, and the women who write science fiction. A daring novel for its time that still retains that same sort of power, it is a complex and highly intelligent read about one women's quest in the far future to find her father and her own identity, to find her destiny and make a difference in her world, to be a catalyst for change. Herein Janet Morris deals with issues of women's equality to men, their sexuality, the power of it, and how, in the simplest of terms, beauty, brains and sex can make a combination as potent as any nuclear blast. If memory serves, I think this novel was first promoted as a new breed of Sword and Planet, and later it was labeled Sword and Romance. What it is at its core is speculative fiction, futurist fiction that takes a serious, hard look at the universe surrounding it, and the main character of Estri and her place in it. She is an aristocrat who becomes and outcast, then a slave, then a ruler. Like all of Morris' books, there is a lot to think about in High Couch of Silistra -- questions of philosophy, sociology, sexuality, and governmental rule. Action and adventure? There is plenty of that. But this book was also carefully devised and structured, well plotted and deeply thought out. This is not a book for kids or for readers looking for a simple, pulp-action space adventure. The issues are real, the characters are real, and you will either find yourself agreeing with the politics and point of view; themes and questions will provoke careful consideration in the reader, and the story will make you think. Is the sexual content explicit or not? I don't think so, but you be the judge of that. I think Morris has handled the violence and sexuality was just the right touch, as she always manages to do. This book was ahead of its time upon its first publication, and while we have caught up to certain aspects of this novel, society still has a long way to go, and much of what passes for science fiction these days is still lagging far behind this novel. In my opinion, it has not aged at all and holds up even better than I had expected, a fitting tribute to a writer who books never grow old or outdated.