Friday, January 18, 2008

Book Comments

As promised, I'm finally getting around to my periodic book review. I've read all the Christmas stash at long last, except for Dzur. It took quite a while, but I promised Rob that I wouldn't read his books before he did, so I had to wait for a lot of them. So without further ado:

The Jenny Trilogy - Elizabeth Bear

This series consists of Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired. I was only so-so on Hammered when I first read it, but when I finally got around to reading books two and three, I loved them, so I had to go back and read Hammered again. I think my problem was that it feels like throat-clearing to me. It's the book that introduces the important characters, gives you the background (Which is complicated - these are people with histories.), and sets the stage for the second and third books, which seem to be the story that eBear really wanted to tell. This may or may not be true, but it's how Hammered read to me. Though I will say I found it much more interesting on the second read, after I knew how things went forward. Scardown and Worldwired, on the other hand, had no such problems. I was particularly fond of the perspective of older people towards teenagers saving the world (I won't specify more, it would be too spoilery). So many books have young people saving the world, it's pretty much a book industry in-and-of itself, but none of those books seem to really address what that looks like to those protagonists parents, aunts or uncles, grandparents - all the older people to whom they really are youngsters and far too young to be burdened so. All of the characters, good and bad, are nicely complicated without those clean dividing lines so many people are fond of that never occur in real life. Plus, aliens who really are alien, both to us, and to each other, and Richard Feynman as an AI - what more could I want in an SF adventure? Highly recommended.

Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi

These are two of four books set in the same universe (The other two are The Sagan Diaries and The Last Colony.). Old Man's War starts the set. It feels a lot like an old-school (Heinlenesque) military SF, with a number of twists and a truly trenchant sense of humor. Humankind is at war with what feels like half the galaxy. They battle back using super-soldiers - they recruit the elderly from Earth, give them seriously souped up bodies, and send them forth to do battle. The book follows John Perry, new recruit, as he is trained and deployed. John Perry is a fun character, the plot is pretty straightforward (none of eBears twistiness here), and all-in-all it's a good, but not particularly deep thinking read.

The Ghost Brigades begins to change that. From the fairly cheerful war outlook of Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades begins to introduce doubt that all this war is really necessary, or that the Colonial Union really knows what it's doing quite as much as they think they do. There's also much more introspection about identity, personality and self-determination in this book - though all as a pretty organic outgrowth from the situation as set up in Old Man's War. For plot, humankind has discovered that - thanks to a human traitor - three alien races are collaborating against humans. If the plot succeeds, humanity won't stand a chance. So they attempt to recreate the traitor using cloning technology and an untried technique for personality downloading. The apparent failure of the attempt, and the subsequent thrusting of the clone into the wars as a supersoldier (one of the ultra-elite Ghost Brigades, literally born and bred for war), shows us a much more complex view of Scalzi's universe. By the look of the preview for The Last Colony, that may well continue the trend - I certainly intend to find out!

The Android's Dream - also John Scalzi

The Android's Dream is SF comedy/adventure. I mean how serious can a book be when it opens with an interplanetary incident set off by farting? Comedy gold continues with electric blue sheep, assasination attempts foiled by what amounts to super-duper basketball shoes, a serious church started by an acknowledged con (acknowledged by the church's adherents, that is), and a man-eating alien who's really just on a religious quest. Things are happening in several directions at once, and it all comes together at the end with what could easily have felt like a series of completely improbable coincidences, but instead felt like watching an episode of James Burke's Connections. It's rare for a book to have me howling with laughter repeatedly and still be a good adventure yarn with good pacing, great characters, and a twisty, but not too twisty plot. The Android's Dream pulls it all off with a bow on top. Well done, Mr. Scalzi!

Thin Air - Rachel Caine

This is the latest installment (6th?) in Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series. I like the series. I like the heroine. I intend to keep reading. That said, I'm beginning to get a little worn down. Joanna Baldwin has been under the gun since the opening paragraph of book 1. She started off under a death sentence, and things have only gotten worse since then. By now all of humanity has been at stake for about three books. Joanne seems to be suffering from the Honor Harrington problem - with each book the stakes get higher and the heroine gets more power - but you can't raise the stakes forever, and eventually the breathless pace starts to get to your reader. I haven't hit diminishing returns yet, but I really hope she starts to slow her book pacing down just a tad here somewhere.

Blood Bound - Patricia Briggs

This is the second book in the series that starts with Moon Called. Modern fantasy - our protagonist is a skin-walker (turns into a coyote at will), auto-mechanic named Mercy Thompson. She's the only one of her kind with an interesting relationship with her local werewolf pack, a friend among the vampires, and a serious nose for trouble. Mercy is an interesting character, the plots tend toward the mystery end of things, though they're not formal mysteries per se. I could well see this as a continuing series without the same escalation troubles as Rachel Caine's books, and it looks like Ms. Briggs is thinking of it the same way - so yay for that. The books aren't terribly introspective, but they're deep enough to be interesting for multiple reads, and light enough for when you're not in the mood for depth. Candy with some substance to it.

I'm currently reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and Off Armegeddon Reef by David Weber. Both seem pretty good so far. The Gift of Fear is seriously informative - I may end up joining the evangelical chorus of people who think everyone should read it. The Weber book is entertaining, but I would like to a) register my annoyance with naming everyone normal names only with extraneous a's and h's everywhere (seriously, Ahrnahld?) and b) This is (depending on how you count), the third or fourth Weber book with aliens that want nothing more than to wipe humanity off the face of the universe. And at least the third where said aliens nearly succeed. How depressing is the inside of David Weber's head?


Bill said...

I love your book comments. I will definitely be reading some of these books. I take it you've given up on rising through the ranks of Amazon reviewers?

Perpetual Beginner said...

Pretty much. I got above the 1000 mark while we were in Keokuk, but had to start a new account when we moved. Now I'll put a review up there if I think I have something new to say, or if I have something specific I want broadcast more widely.