on November 30, 1999
Wow, what a great book. Originally two separate novellas, Biting the Sun was written in the 70's, back when Tanith Lee was writing exuberant, happy, bouncy stories with charming characters and wild plots. Her more recent writing is perhaps more polished, beautiful, and spare, but it's nice once in a while to read her earlier work, which make up in color and voice what they perhaps lack in streamlines and thoughfulness.
Biting the Sun takes place in a future trio of cities where no one ever dies, they just get new, personally-designed bodies. Read the previous review if you want a really good summary of the novel. The first part of the book, Don't Bite the Sun, is my favorite; it centers around the (forever unnamed) protagonist's strangling, suffocating boredom with *her* city, her life, her forced role as Jang--a young, drug-taking, factory-sabotaging, thieving teenager.
The second part of the novel, Drinking Sapphire Wine, is equally entertaining; it explains what happens to the protagonist when she breaks one of the city's few rules and chaos ensues.
The good thing about Biting the Sun is that even at its most depressing and unhappy, there's still a feeling of fun and hope in the novel that never goes away. Tanith Lee is at her most imaginative, and the book is worth reading for the hijinks and misadventures of the protagonist and her friends alone. The main character is engaging and easy to like, the supporting characters are equally entertaining and interesting, and to anyone who's read Lee's Unicorn series, the pink pet in this book seems to be a prelude to Tanaquil's peeve.
All in all, Biting the Sun is a totally fun experience, light and frothy, but not without true substance and thought-provoking themes. Lee's signature is that even in her lightest works she keeps the reader wondering and thinking and questioning; Biting the Sun is no exception.
on December 14, 1999
Although I have been a devoted Tanith Lee fan since I discovered her work sometime last year, I had only experienced her science-fiction work with "The Silver Metal Lover." I shamelessly adore that book; thus, when I heard that another of her earlier science-fictions was being reprinted, I both jumped to buy it and worried a bit about what it might be like. I shouldn't have even bothered to worry. "Biting the Sun" is fantastic.
The book is really two novels in one. The first, "Don't Bite the Sun," deals with traditional dystopian themes, all written in Lee's brilliant, colorful prose and enacted by a crazy and fascinating set of characters. From the beginning the story throws you off balance and pulls you in: come on, what other novel opens with its narrator committing suicide? In the futuristic city of Four-BEE a strict age-based caste system dictates its inhabitants' lives, particularly the lives of the Jang, whose adolescence seems to last at least fifty years. You can do anything when you're a Jang. Drink, do drugs, marry, have love, kill yourself, all as many times as you like in whatever body you prefer; the only thing you can't do is...stop being a Jang. Thus when the anonymous, mainly-female protagonist decides to rebel against Four-BEE, but it's hard. When nothing is forbidden, what can you protest? Apparently there's something, because the second novel, "Drinking Sapphire Wine," deals with the other half of the story: what happens when the narrator finally ticks off the Powers That Be and is exiled from Four-BEE. Although I understand that the books were originally published as separate works, they mesh seamlessly into one another. In theory one could read "Drinking Sapphire Wine" without reading "Don't Bite the Sun"...but why miss the fun? Lee's Four-BEE is a weird and wild place, where pure hedonism is ultimately revealed to be hollow, but it's a delight to read about.
(By the way, I would like to agree wholeheartedly with the prior reviewer: the moment "the pet" entered the action, I thought immediately of Tanaquil's peeve. Those of you who have no clue what we're talking about...read "Black Unicorn" and its sequels and find out!)
Having enjoyed immensely both "The Silver Metal Lover" and "Biting the Sun," two very different looks at the future, I will continue look out for more of Lee's science fiction. Meanwhile, those of you that have never read "Biting the Sun," stop wasting your time reading this review, go out and read the book! Not as though the Quasi-Robots will enforce this suggestion, but unless you do so, I doubt the following song will make much sense: "I only want to have love with you, for you are so derisann..."
on December 13, 2003
A soulless people living in an artificial biosphere in the desert. An advanced civilization turned in upon itself as it reaches levels of hedonism and depravity far surpassing that of the late Roman Empire. A picture of horror disguised as the ultimate beauty and pleasure.
Tanith Lee has created a world in which humans are the obsolete masters of a society so advanced that death itself is impossible. Life on the other hand is an endless pursuit of pleasure for plesaure's sake. No material possession, no experience cannot be had by the elite Jang class of citizens (you could even say it was considered their duty to experiment with play). Work is performed entirely by robot automatons so that humans can indulge themselves in whatever way suits their fancies. Want to try a new body? Commit suicide and come back with a different look, a different gender, antennae if you like. Nothing is criminal or forbidden save one thing: murder.
The depiction of this world ( called 4-B) and an unusual young heroine who dares to buck the system to find meaning in her life resonated with me. Seeing her exhaust every avenue available to her for true self-discovery was a painful and beautiful thing; eventually, she realized that there was something terribly wrong with a society in which God and morals had no place. Therefore, the only option left was to flee from the protection of the AI overseers and their sheltered paradise to become truly human and mortal at last. Reading this was like watching a soul being born.
The author was not exactly covering new territory in her plot line; it became obvious to me halfway through that this was a variation on the popular Biblical tale of the Fall. Whether the Jang caste (perpetual teenagers of a sort) represents Angels or Mankind in a weird state of depraved innocence is vague, but the central characters all became human at some point. Rather than symbolizing a sad end to a good thing, however, the outcast Jang experienced a sort of spiritual and physical awakening, an uplifting if you will. This is truly a tale of redemption where life can bloom in the desert once again.
With some of the most lyrical prose ever to be found in SF, Biting the Sun reaches a rare level of literary excellence for the genre. Still, there are moments of pure recognition as the characters have their foibles and stumbles. In all, I loved reading it and could recommend it to anybody who might have the fortitude to witness the casual tragedy of this peculiar dystopian world.
-Andrea, aka Merribelle
This is an amazing and original fantasy novel.
It takes place in either the future, or on another planet. Death has been illiminated along with sickness and old age. You change bodies, change gender, change anything, the whole world (which appears to consist of three domed cites in a large uninhabitable desert wasteland) is controlled by human like androids.
You go to school until roughly the age of five and then you're "Jang", or teenage for up to a hundred years afterwards. Jang are encouraged to kill themselves and come back in wacky bodies, have sex with dozens of people in both genders (though they have to get married first and annual it afterwards) and take tons and tons of drugs, mostly ecstasy pills. Also Jang are encouraged to steal, but since no money exists and paying consists of putting out emotional energy to power the domes in forms of excessive "thank yous", it doesn't really matter if they do.
Basically this society has no soul, no responsibilities. Androids handle everything. Death means nothing, so life means nothing. (Which is a very profound concept if you think about and not one I've seen used in fantasy before.) And one mostly female Jang rebels (in sort of a roundabout fashion) and changes all that.
It's a cool book and it reinforces ideas of the human spirit. I look forward to reading other books by this author (this was my first.)
on August 28, 2001
To start off, Biting the Sun is a beautifully written novel. Tanith Lee uses excellent language that is both intelligible and fun to read. The book opens up into a world that could very well someday turn out to be earth, revealing a very high tech, but also empty society. When you are a human in the three cities, robots make the rules. The robots are in charge, and indefinetly decide the fate of the humans. It would be hard to say that the people of these cities do not have everything they want. They can be beautiful, do not have to work, and have a very select set of rules. When they buy something, they pay by saying thank you, and a machine sucks the emotion from them, turning it into energy to run the cities. Suicide is not forever here, just until you're body is taken by robots to limbo to design a new one. All you could ever want, right? Wrong, our main character, the lovable protagonist is anything but satisfied. She (being predominately female) begins to feel empty, and begins to search for satisfaction. She searches, but cannot find, for she wants true adventures, and wants life to be like what she has read and heard of in the history tower. She seeks to bite the sun, to rebel against society, and in the end pays a price for it. But what she gains is more valuable then what she has lost.
on October 16, 1999
I bought the original Daw paperbacks in 76/77, still have them and love them. In a Utopian future humans have no work to do and all needs and wants are immediately gratified. There is not only no death, your body is endlessly variable based on your whim. If you don't want to wait the required time between body changes, you just kill yourself and the life spark is rescued and placed in a new body. Be male today with sculpted muscles and blue hair, be female and blond tomorrow. The teenage state lasts for years and years and you can stay stoned or marry and have love with any of your rotating circle of Jang friends. The story follows the life of a predominately female rebel character in and out of his/her various bodies until the point where he/she commits the first real unforgiveable crime in memory. The penalty is a choice between personality dissolution where all memory is wiped or banishment with one last choice of bodies. Female again, she chooses the freedom of banishment and leaves the protection of the domed cities for the desert. The language is strong, the concepts are still remarkable, the subject matter is adult, and I am enormously pleased they are being re-released.
When I was younger, a teacher sent a story I'd written into the writer's workshop at one of the universities in our state. It came back with great comments and the writer's seemed to like it alot. One comment stuck in my mind: it is bigger than this you know. That is how I feel about the two novels of Tanith Lee presented in this one volume. The first, "Don't Bite the Sun", does a great job of laying the background, getting us into the mind of the main character and helping us feel "her" disillusionment with the utopic life that resembles hell more than heave. However the second novel, "Drinking Sapphire Wine" is too short -- I needed and wanted more background, more connection, more feeling, and more time between the characters. Given that this is a collection of two novels, it would have been great to expand on each.
on July 8, 2004
This is one of those stories I could never get out of my head. I first read it as a teenager, then tried to find it years later. It was out of print (or maybe just really hard to find), but I managed to order a copy in some weird hardback edition. I had an even harder time finding the sequel (paid a bookfinder service, and it took nearly a year to get to me). I'm so happy that these have been reissued. They are wonderful stories, and I still think about them. Quite a few lines that I keep remembering. The 2nd book is as good as the first, though it was years before I heard there was a second book. Are there any other books that take place in 4-B? I know she has lots of other books but don't know which ones to read next!
on August 20, 2005
Here is a youthful, vibrant tale about a young, unnamed rebel who sets herself at war with her society. Frustration, exasperation, boredom and a jaded view of her world all come through in the colorful first-person narrative. Adolescents in particular will connect with this book. The feeling that there is something wrong with the world, and the urge to rebel, are particularly strong at that age. Thus this book is probably most relevant to misfit teenagers (like myself when I first read this book).
I don't know that older readers will connect with it on the profoundly emotional level which I first experienced. I was young, and more naive, and here was a book that was saying what I was feeling. It just felt right.
When I was older, I realized that there were flaws in the story for all its wacky grandeur. Another reviewer has been astute enough to point out that there could be more here. There is definitely potential for it. A morally bankrupt society bent on pleasure and run by robots--there's some big potential there for philosophical and political thinking. It isn't, however, all that political or philosophical, at least in a formal way. It's much more oblique, being told through the eyes of a "Jang" or teenager in that society.
What I'm trying to get at is that this story is more likely to resonate with young people because it is geared at them. There is stuff to entertain the older reader, but the book is more emotional than intellectual, and any possibilities for complexities may have been left out intentionally because it is written for a younger audience.
I would by no means excourage older readers from picking it up. It's a fun, zany read. But by all means, if you know any young people, it should be recommended to them as well.
Five stars to Biting the Sun, the love of my adolescence.
on June 7, 2015
In SF and Fantasy the idea of a dystopia where the population lives a life of luxury and pleasure immune from danger or thought until one rebel breaks free is hardly new, Brave New World is the most obvious example, but Tanith Lee manages to wring new life out of an oldish idea and produced this marvellous novel as a result.
The main character lives in a world of luxury and pleasure untroubled by disease, poverty or death. Something niggles in the dark corner of her soul. A trip outside the protective dome of the city to the forgotten wastelands of the desert open her mind to another life and things begin to unravel with alarming speed for her and the society she came from.
Tanith Lee was an amazing writer who really knew how to stretch her imagination and take her readers on a journey. Highly recommended.