I recently finished Winter, which is the fourth and final book in Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. The Lunar Chronicles is a YA series that retells some basic fairytales (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White) but on a futuristic Earth. I’ve noticed that there’s a pattern to science fiction I love: there has to be a depth and mythology to it for me to really get invested in everything going on (another example is Star Wars), unless there’s a killer cast of characters. This one happens to have both: all of the folklore and timelessness of the fairytales combined with some really engaging characters.
That isn’t to say this series doesn’t have flaws – because it is definitely a hot mess at times; some of it is really innovative and well-structured and other parts have weak storytelling and no followthrough. The style of the series is very cinematic, which is both a strength and a weakness; – a lot of the sub-plots and character arcs are formulaic or at the least predictable, but it is very easy to visualize everything and everyone, and the drama and suspense works very well.
The world-building incorporates an interesting mix of science and technology (especially on the side of the Earthens) and the more “magical” abilities of the Lunars (the population who colonized the moon) who can control or manipulate people’s minds, to a point. In some cases, technology can protect a person from the Lunars’ powers, or vice versa. There are also plenty of spaceships of different makes and models – I really appreciate specificity with tech in my scifi. There’s also space-poison and space-antidotes.
Cinderella, aka “Linh Cinder,” is a cyborg and the importance of this fact and how often it is worked into the story is really great and interesting. Cinder, who is also a very skilled mechanic, is constantly faced with her humanity or lack of it, and trying to figure out where the line is between her computer abilities and her own abilities and humanity. I love it. It was especially cool to see in Winter when some of Cinder’s systems are shorted out because of some Unfortunate Events. She has to reorient herself because she can’t rely on her computer systems, and she has to acknowledge that while they don’t define her, they are a huge part of her and an asset to her skills. Most of the characters in the series, at least initially, judge her because of her cyborg identity, which introduces some interesting racial commentary (Earths and Lunars don’t generally judge each other based on their skin color, only on whether they’re a cyborg or from Earth or Luna).
Then you’ve got the Lunars and their powers. Most Lunars have the ability to manipulate others’ “bioelectricity;” I have no idea how this is supposed to work scientifically because it seems like magic to me. They can sense lifeforces from some distance away, take hold of a person’s mind and force them to do anything, even kill someone or themselves. The Lunars are heavily villainized; the only ones who we see as “good” are either Lunars who aren’t skilled with manipulating people, or who choose not to use their powers (and go crazy). They’ve got magic powers, they’re born with them, and almost all of them use their powers for evil? Why? I would have been interested to see some Lunar characters who used their powers for good (for instance, using their sensitivity to find lost or injured people). We also had one throwaway moment where a character realizes that a Lunar woman is actually using their “glamour” to disguise the fact that they’re a man, but there is no further explanation of that fascinating skill. The fact that they call their bioelectricity manipulation “glamours” is very evocative of Faerie/the Fair Folk, which leads us into fantasy once again.
There are androids, which I am always pleased to meet in science fiction. We meet two very important androids in the first book Cinder, but one of them is used as a plot device and then tossed aside, while the other, Cinder’s android Iko, becomes our only stand-in for the androids as a whole, and she is supposedly very different from other androids because she has a Personality and possibly a Soul. I guess androids in general are soulless and boring? Despite this, Iko became a very dear character to me over the course of the story, and continued the theme of exploring what makes someone human. Cinder and Iko, who are considered by most of the population to be “inhuman” in different ways, are constantly emphasized to be the most humane characters in the story. Or at least more humane than Lunars, according to the story.
The story also features more than one princess (as expected in space-fairytales), although only one is locked up in her space-tower. The story takes itself very seriously, and sometimes it comes across as over-dramatic and overblown because of that. Then again, when you’re dealing with space-fae, cyborgs, space-werewolves (DID I TALK ABOUT THE SPACE-WEREWOLVES YET? THEY’RE GREAT), a little drama can be expected.
[This post was written as part of my participation in the 2016 Scifi Experience.]