New Tibet is a colony world, a frigid land of permafrost and snow, far from the centers of galactic civilization. The economy is officially based on mining, and the government, such as it is, consists mainly of corporate policy and security forces. The world is populated by furry folk, largely those who are well adapted to cold: wolf, fox, bear, lemming, rabbit, mink. I wondered briefly what the tigers were doing there, but they are, after all, Siberian. Though we think of them in connection with subtropical forests, their ancestors were common during the last ice age.
In Common and Precious author Tim Susman gives us the first novel length view of life on New Tibet. Two previous volumes, Breaking the Ice and Shadows in Snow, have included short stories by Susman and others set on his ice-bound planet, and all of those stories are of top-notch quality. In this book, though, we get a much deeper and more detailed examination of the culture and environment.
The main protagonist, Melinda, is the daughter of wealthy Tiger Barda, the president of TeraMine Corporation. Her mother is gone, run away or vanished, possibly dead, though she really doesn’t know the details. Her father protects her zealously but obviously doesn’t tell her everything. Like many wealthy and sheltered young people, she has little awareness of the nature of life or the hardships experienced by others less fortunate than herself. She is spoiled and arrogant, but not insensitive and far from stupid.
When a traitor within Barda’s own household helps to bring about an assassination attempt on her father and her own abduction, Melinda experiences quite a revelation. In spite of herself, she begins to understand what life on New Tibet is like for her captors, and for most of the world’s population who are trapped there by their own lack of economic clout.
A powerful suspense novel in its own right, Common and Precious is also a political and economic diatribe. One cannot read it without learning through Melinda’s experiences just how large the gulf can be between wealthy privilege and impoverished servitude. Ultimately, she begins to understand her mother’s many absences and the source of the mysterious conflict and tension between her parents.
Meli is not alone in her dilemma, though. As she starts to appreciate the difficulty faced by most dwellers on New Tibet, Barda is trying to use his political and economic power to recover his daughter. His erroneous assumption that her abductors are the Shivers, a Mafia-like organized crime syndicate under the leadership of another powerful tiger, Tyrrix, leads him up a false trail. Barda summons Tyrrix to a meeting even while he is still in the hospital himself, recovering from the attack, only to learn that the Shivers deny responsibility for both the attack and his daughter’s disappearance. The wealthy businessman faces a dilemma every bit as intense and crucial as the one before his daughter. He can admit his own weakness and ask Tyrrix to help him, or rely only on his own security forces and risk losing Melinda completely.
The book shows us how father and daughter adapt and react to their individual situations. It is not easy for either, and both will be substantially changed by the experience. Tim Susman hasn’t yet given us much in the way of happy stories, and this one is no exception. The novel is dark, and offers little hope to the people of New Tibet or the reader, but the story is told in masterful detail, with imagery that demands thoughtful attention. Common and Precious is not light entertainment, but rather a novel to be read more than once and absorbed thoughtfully. Certainly this is not frivolous entertainment, but it deserves strong consideration.
Illustrations by Sara Palmer show wonderful versatility, matching the mood of the subject matter in a major turnaround from the light and cheerful nature of her familiar drawings in Kyell Gold’s Volle and Pendant of Fortune. Heather Bruton’s cover art is also worthy of note and finely detailed.
Common and Precious
Sofawolf, 2007 (ISBN 9780976921295, $17.95)
E-reader editions also available.