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A Paradigm of Earth


A Paradigm of Earth

I developed a little test for myself on first opening Candas Jane
Dorsey's A PARADIGM OF EARTH. I decided to to wait until this
tantalizing word ------ paradigm --- first appeared in the story
before looking it up to refine my own gut-feelings about it.

In a way, this was also a test of Dorsey's splendid narrative art
as it weaves through a compelling near-future novel, in which an
unformed alien and some very unconventional humans are brought
together to learn Life 100 in an unexpected context. Well over
halfway through (page 264, to be exact) "Blue," a winsome,
androgynous extra-terrestrial, declares to the psychically battered
Morgan Shelby that she is a chosen human "paradigm" among the
dysfunctionals living together in a rambling old house near
Edmonton, Alberta. By then, I need not have bothered with a
dictionary at all.

While dodging the convoluted systems of Canadian government
bureaucracy, untangling layers of conflicted and deceptive sexual
liaisons among the odd assortment of people living in her house and
coping with the mysterious violence that unexpectedly intrudes on
everyday living, Morgan finds herself entrusted with chief
caregiver duties for one of a dozen blue-skinned beings suddenly
deposited around the world by an alien race. Their plan is to leave
these completely unprepared creatures (they're not even
toilet-trained!) to be filled with information as a means to learn
more about humanity. But from that point on, A PARADIGM OF EARTH
powerfully transcends the usual alien/E.T. tale to probe the very
core of mature sentient relationships, to visit pain, growth and
fear with an empathic intensity few writers achieve so

Dorsey takes a bold and risky approach (one that pays off
awesomely) by placing all of her characters on the margins of
so-called "normal" life. Not only does she create a flamboyant cast
of social dropouts and sexually ambiguous eccentrics to fill
Morgan's inherited (and expensive-to-run) old house, but even super
conditioned by-the-book government officials turn out to have
surprising inner lives and emotional attachments that gradually
weave meaning into the puzzle.

Tenderness, discovery, betrayal, loss, understanding and
affirmation are all part of this potent chemistry of life, from
which Blue --- an officially-classified government "secret" living
among them --- must learn about Earthlings, while knowing nothing
at all about his/her own alien race. The resulting tale is really
about one completely displaced entity bonding with another; for
Morgan, although rooted in humanity, feels similarly displaced in a
universe robbed of meaning and purpose by a series of unhealed
losses. Through a gentle interaction of psychic dreaming, a
rarified mingling of souls, Blue innately comprehends her despair
even while learning to name it.

From the poignant and searching texture of its opening pages, to a
surprising but equally poignant leave-taking, A PARADIGM OF EARTH
moves richly into the realm of spiritual meaning by way of the
complex maze of feelings we call grief --- and comes out the other
side into a new and challenging light.

Dorsey, unarguably one of the finest science-fiction writers Canada
has ever produced, builds everyday language into an eloquent
symphonic fabric of theme and resolution that kept me irresistibly
moving from chapter to chapter. Paradigm? The word was perfect; a
gentle but uncompromising affirmation that only the wounded can
truly understand the art of healing, only the incomplete knows what
it means to be whole. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on January 22, 2011

A Paradigm of Earth
by Candas Jane Dorsey

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312877978
  • ISBN-13: 9780312877972