This sequel to Rogue Squadron is less dogfight-heavy and even more adventurous than the first. Our heroes hang up their flight suits in order to infi...moreThis sequel to Rogue Squadron is less dogfight-heavy and even more adventurous than the first. Our heroes hang up their flight suits in order to infiltrate Coruscant, the central planet of the Empire and bring down its defenses. This was almost a sticking point for me -- really, fighter pilots? Don't you guys have Bothans for this sort of thing? -- but since it was such fun, I decided not to quibble. There's another plot point, involving Kessel, that I thought was wrongheaded, but everything after that was jolly good fun.
The depiction of Coruscant -- its highs and lows -- was great, and the eventual fights and adventures there were 3000% more interesting than anything that happened on Coruscant during the prequels. Maybe more than 3000%. Seriously, people. Dodging skyscrapers and pedestrian bridges while atmosphere-fighting TIEs! Taking tea in a heavily secured Imperial building large enough for a Star Destroyer to park in the atrium! Escaping one group of criminals to fall directly into Imperial crossfire!
The Imperial plot against the Rebellion here is fiendish and Machiavellian, and promises to pay off amply over the next few books. The Rogues' devices to bring down Coruscant's shields are inventive and awesome. Despite a lot of coincidences (it's the Foooooorce!) and a not entirely Leia-ish conversation with Leia, this is a really involving, exciting little adventure story, packed with stuff that feels entirely at home in the Star Wars we know and love. This was the way to expand the universe. Good stuff.(less)
This is a book that does what it says on the tin, which is more impressive than you might think. My first flirtation with Star Wars tie-in no...more3.5 stars
This is a book that does what it says on the tin, which is more impressive than you might think. My first flirtation with Star Wars tie-in novels was disappointing, despite the fact that I was ten years old and ready to like anything with Princess Leia on the cover. Unlike the novels that were such a mixed bag for my younger self, this series focuses in on new and secondary characters, rather than trying to ventriloquize the main characters. It also focuses on non-mystical adventures, rather than brainstorming new and kooky Force-related plots and villains to throw at Luke. In short, it's the Star Wars novel I should have been reading when I was ten, and it's still like stuffing my brain with caramel corn now.
Beloved secondary character Commander Wedge Antilles ("Get clear, Wedge! You can't do any more good back there!") is one protagonist here, rebuilding the famous yet often ill-starred Rogue Squadron. The other main character is Corran Horn, a Corellian ex-cop and hotshot fighter pilot. Adventure! Dogfights! Strategy that actually makes sense! The new characters ring true to the universe and are easy to like, and the uneasy tensions within the Rebellion -- between races, between former members of Security Forces and the Imperial Military and shadier characters like smugglers -- are an interesting backdrop. The space battles are actually interesting, and the tactics are much more detailed and awesome than you could depict on film.
Why only three and a half stars? There's a little clunk to the prose now and then, but it's not bad. Actually I docked it for two things: if you aren't very visual indeed, the dogfights will be a struggle to assimilate -- and there are a lot of them; and Corran's character arc in this book -- "Oh, I have to be a teamworker even though I'm a hotshot?" -- is a little infantile and yawnworthy, I found. Not an issue in the next book! (I told you, I'm inhaling these things like popcorn.)(less)
Obviously, this book is an exemplar of a certain time and cultural hegemony. If you can't swallow a little casual racism, chivalric chauvinism, and a...moreObviously, this book is an exemplar of a certain time and cultural hegemony. If you can't swallow a little casual racism, chivalric chauvinism, and a lot of implicit colonialist/supremacist attitudes (White Savior ho), it's not for you, and I can really respect that.
However, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. The first-person narrative was droll and self-deprecating enough to blunt the impact of the almost videogamey levels of protagonist exceptionalism, and there was enough interesting, actually vaguely scientific worldbuilding involved in, for instance, the culture of the Green Martians that they didn't come across as the one-for-one standins for stereotyped Earth cultures I'd feared to find. I found the Sola/Tars Tarkis subplot really interesting and compelling. The adventure, although occasionally a little jerkily episodic and inconsistent (uh, isn't that a lie? and why can't you read that guy's brain?) was pleasingly swashbuckling, and I liked the details of Martian life, the classic airships and faithful Martian hound...not to mention some real sensawunda moments.
As for the titular Princess, well, she does spend a lot of time as a damsel in distress. (And some of that distress is Burroughs hilariously contriving to break his own Green Martian worldbuilding in order to follow formula, sigh.) She does at least talk a good game occasionally, and nominally is involved in Science, but she is a little disappointing. (And that's not getting into the Men are from Earth, Women are from Mars comedic miscommunications.) She's not as weak a character as I might have feared, but when I reflect that Mina Harker; intelligent, stalwart and competent even swathed in chivalrous effusions from the menfolk; was written twenty years before, I could have done with a little more active agency from Dejah Thoris. The secret is to strangle the big creepy green guy with the chain, Princess.
Bottom line: fun adventure, cool ideas, antiquated notions, not as cheesy as I'd expected. I may actually be tempted to listen to another Burroughs novel in future!(less)
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and...more4.5 stars
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and the sorts of people it creates and requires. It's memorable, exciting, and packs an emotional punch.
A gripping book when you get into it, but a difficult read at first. The chapters vary between non-chronological and often chaotic episodes from the life of warrior-protagonist Zakalwe and the more accessible, easy-to-follow narrative of his Culture contact and handler, Diziet Sma. Diziet's chapters are perhaps less interesting, but give more context clues and reference points for constructing the narrative. That's why I call this book a difficult read: it requires more of your help in constructing itself than the average book. I believe it rewards the effort, and by the middle, I was far more interested in the bizarre and often brutal life of Zakalwe than in the Diziet storyline.
Zakalwe reminds me of a Roger Zelazny hero: competent but self-deprecating, jumping from frying pan to fire and getting burned, bruised and broken in the process. Wise-cracking in the face of death, and escaping, albeit scathed. I found most of the book hard to put down while I read it, and haunting afterwards.
I've only read a few Culture Novels thus far, but this one is part of a pattern I see emerging: protagonists who are outsiders, completely or partly, to the Culture. It's a good way of telling stories around a rather utopian setting. Due to the challenging beginning of this book, my current recommendation is that new Culture Novel readers read Player of Games, my favorite of the books so far (and one of my two favorite books read this year.)(less)
This is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is...moreThis is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is easy for a science fiction reader to identify with: technologically advanced, socially progressive, inventive and aesthetically pleasing. But it's hard not to see some reflection of our own Earth in the 'barbaric' Empire that the Culture's Player of Games visits. Some of his pecularities, Culturally speaking, make the protagonist seem a bit more like a man of our world and time than of his own. Those ambiguities and similarities are richly plumbed. I found my liking or disliking for the nuanced characters was seldom allowed to set firm, which added to the tension and played off the themes of the book.
The book's slowly building plot is engrossing, the concepts fascinating and epic. It has some cogent yet wildly imaginative settings and intriguing bits of worldbuilding that hint at insights into power, society and politics. It leaves much of this unsaid and unpacked, the plot central and the themes gathered tightly around it. In short, it's beautifully crafted. One of the things I admire about it most is the way it uses language, from the first, to demonstrate attitudes and ways of thinking. An artificial intelligence's tiny physical body is not small enough to fit in your hands, it's small enough to hide in your hands. It is after all not an object, but an entity, sentient and independent-willed. Tiny notes like this are hit throughout the narrative, illustrating the power of language to shape thought before the plot ever touches on that power. It's elegant, challenging, and entertaining. (less)
This science fiction classic is beautifully written and beautifully constructed. It's world-driven and character-driven, so the experience of the book...moreThis science fiction classic is beautifully written and beautifully constructed. It's world-driven and character-driven, so the experience of the book builds up over time as you get to know both. It took me a little while to feel at home in the narrative as it switched from the visiting Terran's report to the native Gethenian's diary, but once I got my bearings I enjoyed it a great deal, especially the bright, hard-edged folk tales that are larded throughout.
The Terran narrator's gender essentialism -- his need to define himself by traditional masculinity, his rather stereotyped descriptions of Terran women -- was jarring to me, especially in the context of a far future narrative. However, the book is forty years old, and in Le Guin's words "the rather naive male narrator is a deliberate authorial outreach to male readers" [interview with Guernica magazine:]. Perhaps I took him too literally.
The Gethenian cultures are fascinating, not only for the androgyny of the people, but the societal results of living in such a bleak environment, with so few animals and so many hardships. The world has been carefully thought out, and the results are fascinating.
The book is moving and thought-provoking, and succeeds in creating a powerful sense of place and landscape. Not only do I guess that the spaces visited in the book will linger in my mind, but I find that many of the cover illustrations I've seen look familiar -- the artist and I have both been to Karhide.(less)