Monday, January 27, 2014

Kay Richardson, 2006

Premise: Harper is a PI with a fairly average life, until a violent attack leaves her briefly, well, dead. Her experience leaves her with lingering symptoms: she sees and feels things that don't seem to be there.

Oof. this is slightly awkward. Greywalker has been on my to-read list for a while now. The series was highly recommended by a friend, and the author is local to my new home. I picked up a cheap copy months ago, and it was the first one to hand when I decided I should actually start reading the books I bought over the last year.

Unfortunately, it didn't really click for me. It wasn't one thing, just a series of little hiccups. It came out in 2006, and it feels modern except that characters keep talking about pagers. Pagers. All the time pagers, and going to the office to check messages. The word just dates it in a particularly awkward way.

As a lifelong fantasy/SF fan, an author has to work much harder to get me to sympathize with a character who gets crazy powers and refuses to learn to control them. That's like crazy powers 101, and Harper's reluctant spook thing never really felt right to me.

Plus she likes ferrets. Smelly little tube rats.

It isn't a badly constructed paranormal piece, much of the description was good, although I also had issues with the pace.

Again, it isn't that there was anything about this book that was really bad, just... It made me think about the episode of Grimm that I watched for Mainlining Christmas this year. This could be seen as the literature equivalent. There are a lot of books and series similar to this one, and to my eye, the differences are slight, and either this particular set of characters and powers and quirks clicks for you or it doesn't. If it doesn't one that's only very slightly different might, and that’s all down to very personal taste.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

The Forever War

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Forever War
Joe Haldeman, 1974

Hugo Award Winner - 1976

Premise: William Mandella is drafted into the first interstellar war. Time dilation and changing cultures make for an experience unlike, yet still akin to, all wars that came before.

I remember liking this book much more when I first read it, 6-8 years back. Perhaps this is one book that is slightly hampered by knowing its place in history, or perhaps just time is marching on.

The aspect of the book that I remembered liking the most - the effect of the time jumps on the characters - was still very strong. The war in question is a difficult, nearly impossible war to fight or to understand. Every time a ship goes through a jump, time dilation means that dozens or hundreds of years will pass for the ‘outside’ world. This means everything you rely on to give your side an edge in combat, including information or technological advantage or strategic goals may have changed by the next time you see normal space, and there’s no way for you to know.

Worse in some ways, every time the characters meet someone who has been to Earth more recently than they, it’s clearer that culture, conventional mores and even eventually language is moving on for the people living in ‘normal’ time, and the combat troops are further and further estranged from the homeland they fight for. Sound familiar?

It’s easy to get caught up in the particular implausibilities and contradictions of the future iterations of society, but this aspect of it may be best seen as a metaphor for how alien any civilian culture can seem for those returning from a war zone. More specifically, this is a Vietnam era book about the complete disconnect between civilian and military culture and the futility of endless war.

I do find it somewhat ironic (if not unexpected) that in a book about cultural change, it’s that aspect that is becoming further and further outdated by real-world cultural change. The first half or so I find awkward in that same way I’ve noticed in other ‘futuristic’ books from the late 60’s into the 70’s: the idea that free love and relatively indiscriminate coupling would become the norm among heterosexuals, while at the same time homosexuality would remain a fringe identity.

That didn’t exactly happen. See: the 80’s.

So the main character has a bit of homophobia characteristic of the actual year the book was written, not the time the book is ostensibly set. The book in a larger scope treats various sexual identities, the government controlling sexual desire, or no sexuality, as equally potential in the farther future.

Setting all that aside for the moment, however, Mandella’s journey as he tries to deal with the changes in culture, as he tries to just live through the war is interesting and very grounded, very human-feeling.

As a sci-fi metaphor about war and humanity, it’s a great read. As a speculative future, I kept raising an eyebrow here and there at those dated assumptions.

Averaging those feelings brings us to:

3 Stars - A Good Book

List of Hugo Winners


Monday, January 6, 2014

Kate Elliott, 1992 (ebook released 2013)

New ebook version - Free copy for review provided by NetGalley

Premise: Tess Soerensen isn’t sure what to do. Out of school, out of a bad romantic entanglement, she isn’t looking forward to going home where her powerful brother can use her talents in his schemes. She thinks about giving herself a bit of time to assess her options on a backwater world she loved as a child. However, other people’s plans mean that she very quickly has to make a series of decisions that may affect not only the direction of her life, but the role of humanity in the galaxy.

I was surprised when I saw that this book was written in the 90’s. It may have a few artifacts of that time, but I’m glad it’s being re-released in ebook for a new generation. I found this book charming and highly engaging.

I’ve seen this cited in a few places as a coming-of-age book, but what it is, is a finding-oneself book. (Which I far prefer at this point in my life!) Tess is 20-something, she’s an adult, but she doesn’t know what she wants out of life. She knows what other people expect of her, but she’s never had the space to figure out what she expects of herself. This is what the events of Jaran give her.

So I loved Tess. I loved her enthusiasm for intellectual puzzles, her particular talents in translation and cultural empathy, her rock-hard stubbornness.

I also loved the genre mish-mash that is this book. It’s science fiction, at the largest level. Tess lives in a multi-planetary human society which is ruled over by a larger alien empire. She has access to high levels of technology, and she is valued because of her ability to pick up languages, including non-human languages. However, so far as many of the other characters are concerned, it’s almost a fantasy or a historical fiction. The bulk of the action takes place on the planet Rhui. Rhui doesn’t know that it is watched over by a interplanetary government. Think Star Trek, and a planet that people are prohibited from visiting due to its low tech level. Rhui is in a late renaissance equivalent, I think. The Jaran, the people who Tess spends much of the book coming to know, are more or less a matriarchal, less bloodthirsty spin on the Mongols. They are a nomadic society who live on the steppes. Plus, a core thread of Tess’s story is a romance.

Elliott balances all the sci-fi/historical/romance elements extremely well throughout, I thought. Certain tropes risked being obvious, but overall the story was just so good that I didn’t mind.

The culture of the Jaran is intriguing and different than most, Tess is delightful, and all of the supporting characters are interesting and believable.

Both people who prefer interstellar intrigue and those who like complex low-tech cultures should give this one a try.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book