Rist, a native of the Misty Sky Lands, sells ice as a trade, but seeking adventure, travels with a crew downriver on an iceberg. His people live under a sky of eternal clouds in severely cold weather, and his religion and his culture are challenged when he encounters a land of sunshine and people who worship the disc in the sky that Rist cannot bear to look upon.
I really enjoy fiction that allows the reader to see herself from a new perspective, and Rist as an ignorant but eager visitor to the land of God’s Port sets up several interesting juxtapositions. Whereas Rist’s gods are distant and live above the clouds, the Warm Lander people have a much closer relationship with the sun god, with grand churches, formal religious figures, sacrifices, and punishment. Rist’s written communication is tactile due to his people’s natural farsightedness, and he takes notes constantly on a totem he hopes to share with his brother and his son when he returns home.
Rist’s companion, Cruthar, serves as his guide, but also provides answers to his questions every step of the way, too easily to provide any sense of mystery. Cruthar’s immediate explanations make the story more about telling than showing. I would enjoy a lot more mystery to Rist’s cultural awakening. In addition, several smaller specifics remove me from the story. Rist immediately learns English upon his arrival, Rist and his people have darker skin than the southerners, even though their skin has never seen the sun, and when Rist sees the Warm Lander women for the first time, he comments to himself how the women back home would be jealous of the naturally tall, larger breasted women. Overall, I find Flow to be a few good ideas imperfectly executed.
Recommended as part of the Hugo Awards voting packet, but specifically for readers who enjoy the fish-out-of-water parables.
“Cruthar and passers-by seemed to take no notice that the Shining One had fallen to his own sky-god, and that the Misty Sky had prevailed here in the Warm Lands. Or, he thought, could it be that Pursuing Dimness is just the Shining One, only seen through the Misty Sky?”