Like every world-class ("universe-class"?) story set on a distant planet ages hence, the true marvel of Jim Grimsley's novel The Ordinary lies not in its technological wonders or its fully imagined alien landscapes and cultures, though there are these aplenty. The magic radiates, rather, from the way we identify with the characters, who see and feel things that flatly had no existence before the author conjured them into being.
"Magic" is just the right word for this story of conflicts and hidden connections between technology and wizardry. When Jedda Martele travels through the strange new Twil Gate from Senal to Irion from her technologically advanced, war-ridden home world to a world where there seem to be no sophisticated machines of any kind she believes she is going to a simple place as a simple trader and linguist. But the goods she acquires in magical Irion and the language she eventually learns there so far exceed her original conception that she must, in the end, trade far more than her textiles: She must exchange one idea of reality for another, surrender her former understanding of language for a new knowledge of the power of words.
In Irion (the site of Grimsley's fantasy novel, Kirith Kirin, winner of the 2000 Lambda Literary Award), language wed to music has developed into a kind of magic that can change consciousness and alter the course of events. The ambassadors from Senal (for whom Jedda serves as translator) arrogantly presume that they can overwhelm Irion with their military might, but they have not reckoned the overwhelming force of Ironian magic wielded so effortlessly by the beautiful Queen Malin.
Jedda and Malin are women of different worlds, beings of different orders yet they are destined for each other. For many readers, the Sapphic grace of this love affair will be one more way in which Grimsley has opened a new, alternative reality of unanticipated beauty. Their "ordinary" love that is, ordained for every possible twist of fate literally transcends time, for Irion is not only the name of a world, but the name of its most powerful wizard, a wondrous demigod who sweeps Jedda through time to help him "change the sky" and discover the source of his own magic. Grimsley's own wizardry could be put in almost the same terms: He sweeps us through time and space and changes our sky. By bringing two alien worlds together, he brings them both to us. It is a gift of unearthly power. Michael Alec Rose writes from Nashville.