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Tatja Grimm's World

By Vernor Vinge
Pan Books
$14.95

Vinge creates in this book one of the most intriguing images that I have come across in science fiction. A huge barge houses a complete publishing establishment for the science fiction magazine Fantasie. From the production of paper to editing and printing, all activities apart from writing are carried out on board. The barge plies the trade routes, buying stories then printing and selling the latest edition as they go. A young homeless girl who speaks only a primitive language is brought on to the barge. She possess a strange intensity that suggests more than appearances reveal. In the three short stories collected in this edition, Vinge shows the development of Tatjaa Grimm from this dirt covered foundling into the charismatic and calculating ruler of the province of Ocean.

As individual short stories, the works show three stages in Tatja's life, from the first signs of her strong character, through her plotting to acquire the crown and on to her search to explore her true identity. The reader is in the same position as those around her, aware that she is a strong figure but unsure if she is acting for the good of others or merely to achieve some unknown goal of her own. She uses people like tools, manipulating them with her strong charisma and intimidating intellect.

The first two episodes move at a quick pace as Tatja takes control first of the Fantasie and then uses the magazine's personnel to aid her in obtaining the crown. In the final episode, Tatja's position is threatened by the appearance of a leader with characteristics similar to her own. He has quickly gained political power and is using his technological knowledge to wage war on Tatja's province. Conflict between removing opposition and gaining more information about her origins places both Tatja and her province in physical and political danger.

Vinge's writing is enjoyable and intelligent. The characters are very well-developed and the plots of the three episodes are handled well, although the time that elapses between episodes and the disappearance of major characters in these intervals does draw attention to the fact that the three stories were written over a period of 18 years.

This book, while slightly disjointed, is a compelling work with the last two paragraphs presenting a memorable portrayal of a man consumed with anger. Vinge shows some skill in these examples of short stories/ novelettes.