This book was kind of a mess. I don't know if it was listening to it instead of reading it that made it also seem very slow, but I think that was an e...moreThis book was kind of a mess. I don't know if it was listening to it instead of reading it that made it also seem very slow, but I think that was an effect of the author changing her mind in midstream. The setting is fascinating--a "quantum event" breaks reality into seven (?) realms, all of them based on some part of Earth mythology (elemental realm, demonic realm, etc.) and makes Earth history fuzzy so people aren't even sure what parts of it are real. The main character is a woman who was made a cyborg after being horrifically tortured, and Robson has also given this a lot of thought, what with Lila's difficulties in adjusting to her new body, how it feels to carry so much weight, even how the joins between her flesh and metal aren't fully integrated yet.
It's the story I couldn't take. It starts as a typical bodyguard scenario, with Lila assigned to guard a famous musician who happens to be an elf. This section feels like a bunch of incidents strung together instead of an actual plot, and Lila ends up unconscious way too often. Zal the elf has had death threats, hence the bodyguard, but instead he's kidnapped and taken to the head of this sort of terrorist group (I apologize for the oversimplification), and Lila has to go into one of the elven realms to get him.
Which is where the science fiction story turns into a kind of fantasy quest. Suddenly there's a lot of care and attention lavished on a side character who turns out to be a main character, and then *another* character is introduced and given more care and attention. The first side character, Dar, is a double agent with the terrorists and happens to be the guy who tortured Lila; the second guy whose name I've forgotten is actually a dead elf from the opposition whose "spirit body" (thanks to the audiobook I can't spell what it actually is) latches on to Lila like a parasite. Lila has very little trouble getting over both of these things, which I find improbable, though I admit Robson does a good job rehabilitating Dar--I just don't think it would be that easy for anyone to be able to trust their torturer. Also, Dar's excuse for why he did it is lame and selfish (he wanted to keep her alive but also establish his cred with the bad guys. Way to be compassionate).
This was the point where I decided I didn't care very much about any of the characters, and stopped reading.
Patricia Briggs deserves a medal for being brave enough to re-release this book, her first novel and one that doesn't make her look very good. On the...morePatricia Briggs deserves a medal for being brave enough to re-release this book, her first novel and one that doesn't make her look very good. On the other hand, it's interesting to track an author's progress from early books through later ones, and I doubt Briggs is in any danger of losing readers because of this one.
I'm not sure why I read this, except that I had some notion of getting the background for Wolfsbane, which has been recommended to me. Briggs's added chapters at the beginning (for better continuity) weren't integrated very well into the original book; for example, in the new material Aralorn never knows Wolf as anything but a wolf, but then she leaves him for a mission that takes several months (and takes us into the original story) and when she next encounters him, they both react as if she's seen him as human many times. I never really warmed to the characters, and the main bad guy was just...too much. He's totally evil, totally sadistic, and has enough magical power to keep an entire kingdom believing that he's a wonderful guy, plus he's incredibly beautiful and wealthy--is there a word for a Mary-Sue of Evil?
I'm not going to hold Masques against its immediate sequel, Wolfsbane; seventeen years is a long time in the life of an author. Still, Masques hasn't made me eager to read the next one.(less)
UPDATE: The more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. So disregard any positive things I wrote below. The best I can say for it is that P.D. Ja...moreUPDATE: The more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. So disregard any positive things I wrote below. The best I can say for it is that P.D. James is a talented writer who didn't do a very good job here.
Stories about "what happened next" to the characters of Jane Austen's novels don't really do it for me. It's not like I object to pastiche*, because I love Sherlock Holmes stories in all their forms; I've just never felt that way about Austen. But I do like P.D. James's novels a lot, so I was excited about this one. I was a little let down not to love it, but I did like it.
*I apologize for using this oh-so-pretentious word, but I didn't want to keep writing "books-written-to-imitate-Jane-Austen-and-explore-what-happens-next." "Pastiche" sometimes has a negative connotation, as if referring to a pale imitation of the original, but I always mean it as a judgement-free description of a sub-genre.
It doesn't feel as though it's meant to be a strict imitation of Austen's style, probably because (as James admits in the introductory note) it's not a strict imitation of her content; no murder-thriller drama for Jane Austen. And maybe that's the problem; the characters all sound like themselves, but they're doing things they never would have done in Pride and Prejudice. I kept wondering how a real fan of Jane Austen pastiche would feel about it.
On the other hand, I think James meant this book to reach people who aren't readers of Austen and aren't familiar with Pride and Prejudice, because there's a lengthy and tedious introduction that recaps the bits of the story you'd need to understand who Elizabeth and Darcy and all the rest are. In that case, it's mildly brilliant. Brilliant, but I'm still not the right reader for the book.
I did like how characters from other Austen novels popped up in the background, like when Wickham was hired as a caretaker for a house belonging to Mr. Elliot (of Persuasion). It's fun to think of all those people potentially bumping into one another. And James's Darcy felt very realistic--every successor to Austen, whether developing P&P into a movie or writing sequels to it, has had to interpret that mysterious figure whose feelings we never see first-hand. Overall, it was an enjoyable book, and I think I may like it even better the next time I read it.(less)
So disappointing. The premise of a treasure hunt inside a gigantic immersive online environment is interesting. I like the idea of the people of 2044...moreSo disappointing. The premise of a treasure hunt inside a gigantic immersive online environment is interesting. I like the idea of the people of 2044 being fixated on '80s culture for clues to solving the puzzle. The execution simply doesn't live up to the promise. The writing goes like this:
...and so forth. I honestly don't know who the intended audience is. The author overexplains all the '80s references as if he expects readers to be too young or too disconnected from geek culture not to get them, but my experience with SF fandom is that no element of fandom, however old, ever completely dies out; all of us old farts who were teens in the '80s (and, interesting fact, the creator of the book's treasure hunt has the same birth year I do) make sure the young sprouts experience all the golden oldies. This is a first novel, and I make allowances for first novels, but this stretches my tolerance quite a bit.
More difficult for me to get past was the poorly-conceived dystopian future from which the story arises; to the bugaboos of environmental destruction, overpopulation, and economic collapse is added the fear of giant, evil corporations. This despite the fact that the guy who set up the enormous online multiverse AND created the treasure hunt did so by creating an enormous corporation of his own. His online creation is lauded (in one of those massive infodumps) as being so egalitarian because they don't charge anything for access, just for the things you buy inside it, but the corporation couldn't have set it up in the first place without needing a grundle of cash. (My computer programmer friends will fall on the floor laughing at the idea that all of those virtual items people buy are pure profit for the company because they "don't cost anything to make.") Every time I started to get interested in the story, I came up against some background element that only made sense in a tautological way--it is because it's said to be so.
But what really killed it for me, what caused me to finally give up about halfway through, has always been a deal-breaker for me in any work of speculative fiction. I don't like books that seem to exist independently of the great body of work that has explored the same issues or ideas. In this case, it's as if the author has never heard of Tad Williams' Otherland or (despite the hero's homage to Stephenson) The Diamond Age and Snow Crash. These books (I except Stephenson's more recent book Reamde because it was released the same year as Ready Player One) raised and evaluated issues with virtual reality, and yet Ready Player One does a lot of unnecessary reinventing of the cybernetic wheel. And yes, I do think this is a valid criticism; science fiction is interconnected to a degree that trumps any other genre, except possibly experimental literary fiction. There's an expectation that readers will be familiar with concepts raised elsewhere and have more than a passing familiarity with other SF novels. Ready Player One doesn't do much more than revisit ideas that other authors have explored, and the addition of a high-tech fantasy quest (an admittedly very cool idea) isn't enough to elevate it beyond the ordinary.(less)