Bone Dance

Emma Bull
Bone Dance Cover

Bone Dance -- I was a little confused at times

Tar Daddoo

[I am reviewing Bone Dance as Science Fiction, but this is questionable. The book characterizes itself as "A Fantasy for Technophiles," which is reasonable. Somehow the book achieves the feel of Science Fiction without committing to being Science Fiction.]

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

There are several fantastic elements in Bone Dance, but the one that stands out as most like a Science Fiction premise is the ability of certain individuals to "ride" another individual. A rider -- Horseman -- takes possession of the other person's body with his or her consciousness. The person being ridden -- Cheval or Chevaux (horse in French) -- is unaware of what is happening. The rider has some ability to tap into the memories of the person being ridden.

Is the science of the premise explored?

There is almost no explanation of the science behind the Horsemen. They appear to be a genetic construction, possibly for military purposes. We do eventually learn something about what they can and cannot do, though even these bounds stay somewhat vague.

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

We do get some feeling for what it is like to be the rider or the ridden. The impact on the person who is ridden is readily apparent. The impact on the rider is more complex and subtle. Over the course of the novel, we are given numerous glimpses into the ways in which the ability to "ride" has affected the Horseman.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

The primary impact of the Horsemen on society is that they seem to have initiated an apocalyptic event of some sort. At the time of the novel, this event occurred decades ago. We are meeting the ancestors of the survivors. There were only a small number of Horsemen, who have faded from most people's memories. Other than the apocalyptic event, the small number of Horsemen, the secrecy surrounding them, and the time since they were active make it unclear that they have had any further impact on society.

How well written is the story?

The story was fairly readable, but there was something about the author's style that made it rough going for me. At first, I thought the difficulty was simply the prevalent use of new jargon. This always makes a novel a little rougher for me, but I think it was more than that.

Another aspect of the author's style is that she provided many elaborate descriptions of situations and surroundings. I think many people enjoy this detail. I was finding it a difficult terrain that I had to slog my way through.

While it did not become clear until much later in the novel, I also think there were situations when the author assumed she had provided enough information for me to follow the action, but I was unable to do so. Sometimes, she was relying on incidents and descriptions that occurred much earlier in the story at a time when I did not know they would be relevant. Other times, there was a reliance on my having parsed the new jargon when, in fact, I had simply moved on hoping the meaning would become apparent later.

Finally, the book was a bit slow getting going. That's a bit unfair, since it was going immediately; I just could not yet perceive it was going. From the beginning, there are many mysteries and strange occurrences, but it is hard to know which of the strange things are the ones worth figuring out and which are just the strange texture of this post-apocalyptic landscape. For me, the story started going when it became clear which of the many mysteries were the ones to focus on.

Can I recommend the book?

If you are fond of cyberpunk, do not insist on scientific explanations, and are either a good or a patient reader, you will probably enjoy this story. Despite my difficulties reading the book, I did eventually find an interesting story with meaningful themes and engaging characters.

Tar Daddoo