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I have this book somewhere in my basement. I first read it probably between 1980 and 1995. It seems to me like it was written sometime between 1960 and 1980. Due to its structure, it could possibly be a fixup novel of short stories. I can't remember the title or the author.

Very cold world. At least two humanlike species. One (call it Species K) lives in the "temperate" regions, the other currently (call it Species Q) lives in the icy regions. The latter is quite endangered, populations are disappearing.

Species K has never invented writing. Supposedly neither has Species Q, although they have strings tied with knots that actually serve as writing. However, none of Species K knows this. Species K has a guild of Rememberers who fill the lack of writing. There are subspecialties -- everything from those who remember contracts to those who remember the history of tribes.

A myth about Species Q says they have three phases of life, but nobody alive has ever seen the oldest phase. The oldest phase is supposed to have strong psychic powers.

A youth of Species Q goes to visit a city of Species K, bringing many furs for trading. Some of these furs are from animals thought by Species K to be extinct.

A legend of species K says that a small population of species Q was migrated to another planet. A delegation from Earth happens to be visiting the cold world at this time, and the Species Q youth goes with them to visit this lost population. It turns out to be accurate, and he brings home a bride.

Back on the home planet, the youth and his bride return to the polar region. Something or other happens and the bride is killed.

Meanwhile, a band of Rememberers from species K somehow gets exiled and wanders north. Possibly the interaction with Earth people has introduced writing and computers, and made Remembering less fashionable.

The youth, who is no longer young but has actually entered the third phase of his life, takes them as his tribe and teaches them his culture.

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    This sounds familiar, but I'm stuck on The Snow Queen which is not it.
    – DavidW
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 20:41
  • Now that I've found it I have realized my memory was in error. The bride was not killed; she and the youth lived out a full life. He transitioned to the third phase; she did not, and died. They had children. The unfortunate event I was misremembering is that the children all died of the same sickness that was leading the race to extinction. Slower-than-light interstellar travel is important in this universe, and explains why the "third phase" section of the story is many decades after the "return with bride" section. Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 15:38

1 Answer 1

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A person on this Tor.com discussion suggested that it was Frostworld and Dreamfire, by John Morressy (1977). They were right. This review shows a cover I recognize and elements of the story that match:

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The planet Hraggellon is classified as a frostworld: Half the planet permanently faces the sun, half the planet faces the stars. Liminal zones, inhabited by humanoids in a roofed city (Norion), experience annual “alteration of light and dark” (v). Another humanoid species, the metamorphic Onhla, survive the “perpetual darkness of Starside for prolonged periods” hunting the varied animal life with their sentient packs of tormagons (1). Over the course of an Onhla’s life, they undergo two changes: from youth to adult where they shed their animal-like fur and take on the appearance of a human and a final transcendent stage that outsiders perceive as legend.

Note: the cold part of this planet is not the regions of rotational poles, as a normal planet would be, but the "starside" of the tidally locked planet, where the sun never shines. The habitable zone is the twilight region, where libration results in a year-long sunrise/sunset cycle.

The importance of cultural memory is central to Morressy’s vision. The dictators of Norion attempt to erase seditious thoughts and challenges to their rule by exterminating the Remembrancers, a group of indivuals who record history and business transactions in a society without writing. While the Onhla connect themselves to their ancestors and culture by wearing their legends, recorded in knots, on their bodies.

Now that I've found it I have realized my memory was in error. The bride did not die at the time my question said she did; she and the youth lived out a full life. He transitioned to the third phase; she did not, they had children, and eventually she died (off-camera) in the normal course of life.

The unfortunate event I was misremembering is that the children all died of the same sickness that was leading the race to extinction. The timing of that sickness implied that contact with humans was spreading the sickness.

Slower-than-light interstellar travel is important in this universe, and explains why the "third phase" section of the story is many decades after the "return with bride" section.

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