Fiction, Science Fiction

Novel: Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge

May 27, 2011

The cover copy for Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire (2002) promises a vivid and interesting near-future world, filled with some of my favorite genre ingredients:  corporate intrigue, virtual reality experimentation, a curiously transformed political landscape, a world rather like our own but also distinctly other.  It certainly  delivers these surface assets enjoyably, but also goes a lot deeper, providing thought-provoking themes, memorable characters, and powerful emotional impact.

The novel tells the story of Ren “Jackal” Segura, the “Hope” of the powerful Ko corporation, born and bred for greatness on the world stage as an important member of the newly forming Earth government.  Intelligent, insightful, and trained from birth to be an effective symbol of change, she’s enjoyed a coddled existence on Ko’s artificial island in the South China Sea.  For all her advantages, though, she’s uncomfortably aware of her privileged status, which produces its own stresses among her “web” of corporate friends.  Shocking events conspire to disrupt her upward trajectory, however, and Jackal soon finds herself unfairly branded a criminal and stripped of everything she knows – her reputation, her work, her friends, her home, her lover.  In lieu of serving a full sentence, she enters into an experimental VR solitary confinement program.

The experience of this program, and the subsequent effects on Jackal and the other test subjects, comprise the rest of the novel, and it’s a fascinating, beautifully written story.  Throughout, Jackal struggles with her identity – ultimately discovering a true “internal self” so starkly in contrast with her mitigated, socialized corporate upbringing that she despairs of ever reconciling the public and private versions of herself.  Interesting thematic dichotomies  abound – internal  versus external, reality versus perception, the individual versus the group, the way the world should work versus the way it actually does.   Eskridge handles her ideas adroitly, integrating them into a compelling plot and setting them against a haunting futuristic backdrop.  And along the way, the novel performs that time-honored SFnal trick of using a genre-modified world as an illuminating mirror on our own.  Masterful.

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  • Lisa Moore May 27, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Ordered! Keep feeding my habit, candy man. 🙂

    • Chris East May 27, 2011 at 10:55 am

      I’m reading as fast as I can! 😀

      I think you’re really going to enjoy this one, Lisa…

  • Kelley Eskridge May 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Chris, thank you so much for this lovely review! I’m delighted you like the book, and I’m always pleased when anyone reads it as a story of identity — that’s one of the explorations I return to constantly in my work. It’s endlessly fascinating to me how we become ourselves.

    Thanks for taking the time to write about Solitaire, I appreciate it.


    • Chris East May 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      You’re quite welcome! When I like a book this much, I always worry that I won’t be able to do it justice. Hopefully I did OK here. 🙂

  • Steven Klotz May 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I read this a while back, LONG before I started reviewing what I read in earnest, but this is what I jotted down at the time:

    [2004 06 14]Solitaire, Kelley Eskridge — If William Gibson attempted to combine Clockwork Orange with Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank redemption, the result might be something like Solitaire. Eskridge takes social engineering to new levels by placing a ‘project manager’ into the glorified role where we expect to see a hacker or a cowboy or a fighter pilot. This is speculative fiction that business majors can appreciate, and it’s an impressive first novel.

  • Collection: Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge | Christopher East September 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    […] also say it because the longer stories — like Eskridge’s fantastic novel, Solitaire — really worked for me.  Of particular note are two stories that seem to be key:  […]