The Unbalancing, by R.B. Lemberg (Tachyon)
R. B. Lemberg’s The Unbalancing is an exquisite marriage of imaginative world-building, insightful relationships, and compelling story. Here stars are sentient, ghosts speak to their descendants, both sexuality and gender are accepted as fluid, and people work magic through their “deepnames.” It’s also a sweet love story between a reclusive poet and the brash new starkeeper who’s tasked with the care of a restless, unhappy, submerged star.
The story is rich in unexpected yet consistent details. Through the dual viewpoints, Lemberg guides the reader through the complexities of a world that is just like enough to our own to feel familiar and yet challenging at every turn. Its differences invite us to re-examine our assumptions about people, their nature, and their relationships. What would it be like if every person figured out for themselves if they belonged to a single gender, and if so which one, a combination, or an entirely new one? How does this affect political power? How is physical intimacy negotiated? Lemberg’s characters exemplify consent (“Is this good?” “Do you want me to go on?” “What would you like?”) as a normal, natural part of courtship, one the modern human world could emulate.
As with Lemberg’s previous novella, The Four Profound Weaves, The Unbalancing is a tale of emotional power and superbly handled prose that often approaches poetry in its nuance and poise. Highly recommended, with the suggestion that it be read slowly and savored.