Mirror worlds

Day by Night — Tanith Lee

Day-by-Night

1980’s Day by Night is a standalone novel, set on an eternally tide-locked world. One side is eternal burning day, the other side is endless freezing night. It is not a world that would seem to be hospitable to organic life. Yet, somehow, in a time forgotten and for reasons no one living knows, this world was settled by humans.

The aristocrats of the nightside enjoy a luxurious life in palaces sustained by an advanced (but mysterious) technology, while the desperate legions of the poor struggle to stay alive. There are no bread and circuses to pacify the masses, but the poor can at least enjoy Vitro’s fanciful tales.

And what a tale she spins! Her latest is the saga of Vel Thaidis, an aristocrat much like Vitro herself, who is framed for a crime of which she is innocent, by Ceedres, a rival who covets Vel’s estate. Cast down into the dregs of society, Vel faces a life of humiliation and degradation in her world’s Slumopolis. Although at least it isn’t likely to be a long life….

But Vitro’s own, real, life with her brother Vyen is less secure than expected….



All of the nightside aristocrats rely on the technology underlying their palatial Residensias, but none of them, and none of the rabble, understand how that tech works. If the marvellous devices in a Residensia should fail, no human has the slightest inkling how to fix them. The only choices open to someone whose Residensia has died are to accept the charity of fellow aristocrats, a terrible humiliation, or worse, to accept relegation down into the miserable masses.

And Vitro and Vyen’s Residensia is failing.

Vitro has a cunning idea: steal the plot from her own fabulation, and frame rival aristocrat Casrus so that Vitro and Vyen can take Casrus’ Residensia for their own. Casrus will be sent to the Subterrior to suffer along with the peasantry he loves so much, and the siblings can continue to live the life of pampered luxury to which they are so clearly entitled.

But Vitro does not truly understand the nature of the world in which she lives. Nor does she know who truly spins the tales that all enjoy.

 ~oOo~

Those of you familiar with Christie’s The Pale Horse may be asking yourself “isn’t it kind of risky to base an underhanded plot on a publicly shared story?” Even though Vitro is a bit of an ninny, she does actually consider that issue and she does take steps to address it. It’s not her fault that she’s been denied vital, need-to-know information about the nature of her world.

It’s even open to question just how much responsibility the villains of this piece have for their actions, although I suppose the architects of this world argue that they influence rather than guide. Still, this is a rare Lee where the very bad people do come to thematically appropriate ends. Well, most of them.

And now, the moment you have all been awaiting … the ongoing grand tally of dead parents continues!

Title

Missing or dead moms

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Total

13

12


To be honest, there are two more mothers and another father who might be dead, but those three are the ones of whom I am sure.

(I am also beginning to suspect that the appearance of robots in a Lee story, especially the sort who take care of their charges according to guidelines of which no human is aware, is a very bad sign. Tricky fellows, those robots. You never know who they really serve.)

This novel shares some superficial similarities with John D. MacDonald’s now obscure Wine of the Dreamers. The similarities only serve to underline the richness of Lee’s prose as compared to the rather workmanlike MacDonald prose. Lee’s worldbuilding is also more ambitious than MacDonald’s, as is the structure of her book. Dayside and nightside mirror each other. Vitro believes this is because her visualization of the dayside is based on the world of the nightside and populated with caricatures of the people around her. But Vitro also believes that she’s a brilliant storyteller surrounded by idiots … which belief is equally misguided.

As far as I can tell Day By Night has been out of print for decades in North America, but SF Gateway has put out an edition that Britons can enjoy.




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