Retro Fiction Review Series
“Queen City Jazz” (1998) by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Published by Voyager, London.
‘Queen City Jazz’ is an interesting book, it has a great premise with exploring a distopian future using a melding of giant bees and hive like ‘alive’ city networks and the post effects of a ‘nano war’ on the people surrounding and within one of those cities, ‘Cincinnati’ known as the ‘Queen City’.
The protagonist Verity is the reason I read it all the way through. As a character, being young and quite ignorant of her history and with selective teaching of her history around her she has startling indpendence and the ability to act autonomously. Her choices are her own all the way through and she is clear about her reasoning for things throughout her journey. It is delightfully refreshing (still) to read a believable female character as the protagonist in a novel where it’s not playing too much up to tired tropes for female characters.
For example, playing into the trope, Verity is ‘chosen’ for a particular destiny, but the way in which the author uses that trope interestingly and allows Verity to interpret for herself what being ‘chosen’ means. While there were romantic threads in the book it wasn’t a strong theme and the story was stronger for it.
On the less positive side of things, I didn’t really enjoy the ‘god/prophet’ thread. This thread involved the story of a middle aged male character who was responsible for early programming of the cities, him and his issues leaked through a little bit to strongly and made my teeth hurt a little.
Overall I liked it and am glad I read it, but it was a bit of a slog to get through and I was committed to finishing it rather than really wanting to read it all the way through. My reasons for doing so, such as the interesting premise, the female protagonist and her story remaining central, her independence, resilience and autonomy reinforced the entire way through made it worthwhile.
I’m really glad the book exists and that I read it. It is a solid science fiction novel and it pressed a lot of my reading desirability buttons gently, but without ever really hooking me. Still, that’s my experience of reading and your mileage may vary.