James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Nothing’s Gonna Change My World

A Real Sky

By Tori_Siikanen 

25 Oct, 2018

Miscellaneous Reviews


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

tori_siikanen’s A Real Sky is an unfinished novel, readable at Archive of Our Own. It attempts to give Tanith Lee’s Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine duology a concluding volume.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

But not in Four-BEE, Four-BOO, and Four-BAA, where, for humans, there is no death and no escape from the carefully orchestrated existence permitted by their quasi-robot (Q‑R) tenders. Attempts to step outside carefully defined borders spark the close attention of the Q‑Rs.

Case in point: a nameless protagonist plagued with unexplained dreams of a past of which they should have no knowledge. Also, unfashionable interests. 

The nameless protagonist is interested in history rather than meaningless pleasures. Such borderline heresy prompts the Council to assign them a full time Q‑R guardian. There’s even talk of branding them a deviant. 

Public deviance incurs social isolation and other unpleasant measures. To forestall this, the protagonist demonstrates their conformity by hurling themself from a high place to a painful death below. Suicide is improper behavior, but it is common enough that it is considered normal. 

Their life spark is immediately installed in a new designer body. On a whim, they choose a male body, a choice that will greatly complicate their life. Their group, the Jang, will only sanction marriages (of varying duration) between one man and one woman. This is inconvenient for the infatuated Kina (male), who had expected the protagonist to emerge from rebirth still a woman. It is even more inconvenient for our hero, who is immediately smitten with dashing duellist Saz. Saz is male; marriage is verboten. The protagonist must settle for becoming Saz’s friend. 

The obvious solution is as close as the nearest balcony or rather the hard surface far below. Surely Saz will not be able to resist their friend in a suitably attractive female avatar? It seems Saz can. Inexplicably, Saz prefers to be male and to court males. What can the protagonist possibly do about that? 


This is a bit of a spoiler but oh well…. The protagonist’s unexplained dreams are dreams of a former life as the protagonist of Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine. It seems that the Q‑Rs managed to retrieve at least one life-spark from the exile community depicted in Drinking Sapphire Wine . I suppose the notion that a human might escape by dying was intolerable. 

A: It may seem odd that one might randomly choose to be male or female when reincarnating, but one is NOT allowed to indulge in same-sex relationships. Blame tori_siikanen for odd worldbuilding? No, this is right out of the Tanith Lee sources. Why made that choice is beyond me. Perhaps it’s that she knew that social conventions don’t always make sense if they’re decoupled from the original context where they developed, Or if they exist only to demonstrate that the people enforcing them have the power to do so. Or if they’re just some of the stupid things people do. 

I could retcon this by blaming the Q‑Rs. Giving humans vast possibilities and then insisting they explore only a very narrow range of them sounds like the sort of thing a bad interface designer would do. 

B: TV Tropes asserts that Tanith Lee intended a third novel in her series. They attribute this passage to Lee: 

I had wished … to write a third book in which I would try to set out an alternative life-style, adventurous and stretching to mind and heart, but still, and importantly, free of the retributions of unprotected life. I did and do think a world would be feasible which gives pleasure and safety alongside excitement and development. 

(I cannot find an original source for this, thus my phrasing.) 

A Real Sky may not be the sequel Lee intended but it is certainly a sequel. Not just in the usual necrolaborative sense, in which an otherwise dissimilar work is connected to an established classic by publisher’s fiat and the addition of thrilling sequel” or perhaps book nine of a three book series” to the cover. A Real Sky touches on the same issue (struggle against meaningless restriction) foregrounded in the two Lee books. 

The author began this work in 2012. The end is not yet in sight. 

Until comments are working again,feel free to comment here.

A Real Sky is available at Archive of Our Own.