I am now prepared to officially call myself a 'science fiction reader’ because Venus of Dreams was fantastic and I want more. I just regret that it has taken me so long to discover Pamela Sargent because I'm sure that if I had read this book when I was younger I would a lot more enthusiastic about reading science fiction.
Ever since she was a child, Iris Angharads has dreamed of one day leaving her Nebraska commune to travel and see the world. And even more than that, Iris yearns to receive an education that will allow her to move to Venus and work on the Project, making the planet habitable for humans. But Iris know that it is unlikely that any of this will happen because she is needed in Lincoln, to take over the Commune after her mother retires and to birth children who will carry on the family line. Yet Iris can’t help dreaming of the impossible and so she begins to secretly take extra educational courses, never guessing the consequences that will result.
Liang Chen also dreams of becoming one of Venus’s first pioneers and as soon as he is old enough, he travels to Venus and gets hired as a technician for the Project. But after years of dedicated service Chen makes a mistake which has him exiled back to Earth, and now Chen must prove himself worthy if he ever wants to return.
Both, Iris and Chen will do whatever is necessary to see themselves become a part of the Project that they are so passionate about, even if it means hurting those they love most. And it’s this shared passion that will bring the two of them together, working to make their dream a reality.
I used to enjoy reading books about the early settlers of North America and of the adventures they experienced while fulfilling their dreams of settling the New World. In Venus of Dreams Sergent recreates this slice of history in an exotic, futuristic setting, making Venus the new world that the citizens of Earth hope to colonize. Since Earth has become overcrowded and its resources are running out, people have begun settling on asteroids and other available planets. But it’s Venus where the real opportunities lay and so Earth has built a space station there and sent over workers and scientists to build the structures that would make Venus habitable to humans. A century later the Project is still a work in progress, fueled by the dreamers who come to Venus, hoping to claim a piece of it for themselves and their future decedents.
While Iris has always desired to work on the Project she knew this was impossible, until Chen entered her life. But while Chen’s presence opens new doors to her, Iris is now frustrated by the demands that a relationship requires when all she wants is to dedicated herself completely to her work. For Chen it's easier to share his passion for the Project with his love for Iris, but his own secrets create an emotional barrier that might ruin everything they have. Both Chen and Iris are complex, well-drawn characters that I easily empathized with and who frequently strayed into my thoughts even when the book was closed.
Several of the book's secondary characters also made a strong impression on me, particularly Iris's mother Angharad. Angharad has always expected that her daughter would take over for her some day, as she took over for her own mother. She relies on Iris for the survival of their line, and so is frustrated and disappointed when Iris 's aspirations are to leave the Commune. In turn, Iris is upset by her mother's disapproval, wishing that Angharad could understand her longing to learn and travel, and not be bound to Lincoln for the rest of her life. The relationship between the two is one that many mothers and daughters could probably relate to, coming full circle in the end when Iris becomes a mother, and finally develops an understanding of Angharad through her rocky relationship with her son.
Sergent also creates an interesting vision of a future Earth, in which that planet has been taken over by an Islamic group after many of Earth’s citizens fled to settle in Space. Iris’s commune harvests food for the rest of the states and is run solely by women. The men are expected to leave the town as soon as they are old enough, and to spend there rest of their lives traveling around the world and taking work where they can find it. Any desire to lead a different kind of existence is quickly squashed by those who fear the dangers that change may lead to.
Venus of Dreams is a wonderful story of adventure, intrigue, suspense and romance that anyone can enjoy without having to be a genre reader, though it’s an ideal book for those who want to give science fiction a try. The science and technology aspects are pretty low-key, making this story particularly appealing to those, like myself, who shy away from the hard core science fiction books
I now can’t wait to hunt down more of Pamela Sargent's books and to see what other similar science fiction works I might have missed out on over the years.