Tatja Grimm's World
by Vernor Vinge
Tor, 2006 , ISBN 0-765-30885-1
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is a fix-up, the two oldest pieces of which (Part II, The Impostor Queen, and Part III, The Feral Child) were originally published in the late sixties. Part I, The Barbarian Princess, was originally published in the late eighties. There’s some unevenness of tone and style as a result, but this is still vintage Vinge and well worth reading.
Tatja Grimm is a barbarian child on a world of severely limited resources. Being much, much brighter and more curious than anyone else in her tribe, she sets out for civilized parts, where she hopes to find intelligent people from whom she can learn, and with whom she can have real conversation. Unfortunately, she finds that, while brighter, more curious, and better educated that the people she grew up among (at least some of them), the civilized people aren’t enough brighter to make a significant difference to Tatja. She’s still effectively all alone. And so Tatja becomes a wolf among sheep, albeit a wolf who has some concern for the health of the flock, while still plotting and hoping to find or contact her kind of people. In all three stories, we see Tatja’s story mainly through someone else’s eyes. In Part I, it’s Rey Guille, editor of Fantasie magazine, published on the Tarulle Barge, constantly on the move and publishing a new edition for each major stop on its regular circuit. Rey is trying to convert it into a magazine of stories of science-oriented Contrivence Fiction, but market demands and available material mean that most of the stories are still focused on magic and mysticism. When Tatja Grimm turns up, utterly ignorant, speaking no civilized language, he realizes she’s a dead ringer for Hrala the Barbarian Princess, leading character of one of the longest-running and most popular series, and could be very useful for the live shows that help to publicize the magazine. It’s not long before he realizes that the pathetic lost child who seemed little better than a moron is something frighteningly more intelligent than anyone else around, and neither she nor they are going to be satisfied with their association.
In Part II, Tatja uses the Fantasie crew’s obsession with acquiring a complete run of their magazine to leverage herself into position to usurp the place of the long-missing heiress of a kingdom currently ruled by an especially ruthless regent—getting herself the resources she needs to continue her quest for her own people, and quite coincidentally giving the kingdom a more humane (but no less absolute) regime.
In Part III, she finally encounters people who are more than a match for her—and she has to figure out which of these competing interlopers is her friend, and which is planning to destroy her and do terrible things to her world.
Not perfect, by any means, but very, very good.