I wrote a long review of this book and Goodreads ate it. I have to start writing the reviews in a word processor and pasting them here. This has happeI wrote a long review of this book and Goodreads ate it. I have to start writing the reviews in a word processor and pasting them here. This has happened too many times. Here's the shorthand version of the review.
Better than the first book.
It concentrates on Draka consolidation of new territory, especially on the domestication of their new slaves. Draka are bastards. New generation of Draka think that its their birthright. They see themselves as becoming a kind of philosopher king after the entire world has been subjugated, but along the way they blithely witness and inflict mass impalings, horrible tortures, gang rapes, and its all just a logical consequence of being supermen.
Stirling does very well by taking seriously what it might mean to create a society of Zarathustras. He makes them totally repugnant, but also manages to make them more than one-dimensional. He also does very well showing a wide range of reactions among their subjects, from defiance to a kind of passive resistance to acceptance to allegiance, and all for different and believable motives.
The plot, a spy story involving secrets on microfilm, is pretty thin, but its there as a skeleton on which Stirling can hang his outlines of the developing Draka plantation society. That picture is done nicely, even if its subject is repellant.
I will definitely move on in the near future to the next book in the series. ...more
The cover shows a close-cropped, grizzled man, wearing tattered camouflage, and holding a gleaming sword in a two hand fighting position. Behind him,The cover shows a close-cropped, grizzled man, wearing tattered camouflage, and holding a gleaming sword in a two hand fighting position. Behind him, there is the broken fuselage of a jet, with the Rockies looming in the distance. The landscape is otherwise desolate. This picture captures a bit of the soul of the Change world, and it's this world that I liked so much in the first three books.
The man in the picture is Artos, High King of Montival, nee Rudi Mackenzie. Or at least it's supposed to be. But let's get to some problems with the picture. First off, there is no wrecked airplane in the book. Secondly, the picture of the wreckage doesn't ring true. The Change happened in a flash, instantaneously cutting off all electricity. If this plane had been flying at the time, it would be a much more severe wreck than what is shown. And if it was not flying at the time, what is it doing out in the foothills of the Rockies, all on its own? Of course, these are just quibbles.
Let's move on to Rudi. The books are quite clear about his description. He's tall, has shoulder-length hair that is curly and fire red. Oh, and he wears a kilt when he's not wearing armor. Moreover, he would not just be carrying a sword. He would also have a quiver of arrows and a bow with him in all likelihood. And even if he didn't have that, then he would have a scabbard for his sword. And the scabbard would definitely appear in the picture.
I don't necessarily mind the use of artistic license. (I will note that I find it puzzling that Stirling, who tries very hard to be accurate, or at least plausible, in his descriptions, would approve of a cover that veers so far from his own descriptions.) But I do find it emblematic of my major problem with the book: I like the world in the picture, which was the world of the first three books; I'm increasingly less fond of Artos, his kilt, and the fantasy world that has somehow grown out of the Change.
In this book, Rudi and his gang travel back from their quest, from Nantucket to his home in Montival (formerly Oregon and surrounding territory). In keeping with the pace that he has set for the series, Stirling has determined to fill us in on every step of the journey. It's a long walk. Along the way, there are some reunions, some skirmishes, two battles. And it all feels a bit old. The Cutters again are faceless, mindless villains who attack and attack, chanting "Cut! Cut! CUT!", and, by comparison, they make the orcs in the Lord of the Rings feel like full-blown characters. There's also a fair amount of alliance making, and that was a bit more interesting, but only a bit.
Ironically, the feeling I had for this book was best expressed by Rudy himself:
"I'm tired of this... It's been years now; fighting and running, now them running and still more fighting. I'm tired of seeing brave men die; tired of killing them. ... I want it to stop." Unfortunately, that about sums it up for me as well. ...more
This book divides into three main parts: Grass, Grass, Grass. Then, Confess, Confess, Confess. Then Up, Up, Up. The first and last actually appear inThis book divides into three main parts: Grass, Grass, Grass. Then, Confess, Confess, Confess. Then Up, Up, Up. The first and last actually appear in the text in so many words. For a book that has so much "up, up, up", it came off as remarkably flat. The trouble is that everyone loves Moirin, and there's no reason not to love her. And it's her very lovability that leaves me wanting more. She gets put through a number of bad situations, but there's never any sense that she's in any actual danger. She has too many gods on her side, and whenever she gets presented with something that might be a dilemma, she simply needs to consult with one of them and she gets her answer. So, while what she goes through should be difficult, it seems like all of her difficulties get resolved for her. Maybe it was that way with Phedre and Imriel as well, but I never got struck with it as strongly.
As a result, I felt like this book lacked dramatic tension. In the first third of the book, she marches across the steppes. The Mongols (Tatars) might be antagonists, but instead they take her in for the winter and make her their kin. This is about as exciting as grass, grass, grass. Then she gets kidnapped by an evil Russian priest, who is also something of a hypocrite. This escalates somewhat, but in this section, she basically confesses her past to him, and this feels like a watered down recounting of the last book. There's some interest here in Moirin's attempts to seduce her jailer and win him to her cause. But it still feels rather flat, and this third becomes more of an essay on theology than anything else. And then in the last third, Moirin scales the Himalayas to free her love from the clutches of the Falconer and the Spider Queen. These two sound like promising villains, but the Falconer is basically a cypher, and the Spider Queen has little more than a cameo. Again, for me, it fell a little flat.
As always with Carey, the writing was graceful and a pleasure to read. I did get a little tired of "betimes," "mayhap," "somewhat," and "well and so". In the first books, I accepted these language distortions as a part of the world building and something that came through Angeline culture. But Moirin is an Alban, not Angeline, and she is talking about scenes that came about in entirely foreign languages (the Terre D'ange versions of Mandarin, Mongol, Russian, and Hindi). That makes these distortions feel even more artificial to me than they originally did.
I'll probably get around to the third book of this trilogy at some point. Moirin hasn't quite gotten around the world yet, and their are promises of oceans to cross. I am curious to know what changes were brought about in pre-Columbian America by the birth of Elua to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The answer should be zero, but I'm betting that's not the case....more
This book starts with a great premise: Imriel will have to bring his traitorous mother to justice to have the Queen approve his love match with her daThis book starts with a great premise: Imriel will have to bring his traitorous mother to justice to have the Queen approve his love match with her daughter. And then, Carey punts and the book goes off in an entirely different direction. This trilogy began with the disappearance of Imriel's mother, so this premise made perfect sense. And it was also in line with the sort of personal struggle that dominated Kushiel's Justice.
I liked what Carey delivered instead. Imriel goes on a lone quest to save his love and his country. And it's packed with great moments. The bad guys pale in comparison to some of the other books. And now, Imriel seems just too noble for words, much like Phedre and Joscelyn before him. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and probably would have liked it more, except that I kept having the idea that the book insisted on shying away from what I thought would be really interesting. Instead of wrapping up the intrigue with Imriel's mother, and with the Unseen Guild, it more or less leaves those things hanging.
I don't often criticize a book for what it isn't, but I think it's OK to make an exception for the third book of a trilogy. And that's especially true when the book first tells you what it's going to be about, and then undercuts itself.
And one last thing: I still don't understand what mercy (Kushiel's or anyone else's) has to do with this book. That may just be my stupidity. ...more
Our tortured sadist is back. In this book, Imriel keeps his word and marries one woman while in love with another, for political reasons. This violateOur tortured sadist is back. In this book, Imriel keeps his word and marries one woman while in love with another, for political reasons. This violates Blessed Elua's Principle (or is it Elua's Blessed Principle), and bad things happen. Along the way we get witchcraft, shapeshifting, soothsaying, sword fights, a shipwreck, imprisonment, revenge, and snowblindness to rival Dr. Zhivago.
All in all, I liked this installment, even though it did feel more like an installment than anything else. I especially liked Berlik, even though he only makes a few appearances. And I actually like Imriel's abiding stupidity throughout this book. The only thing that troubled me is that none of his confidants seemed to think that he was being stupid. All he needed to do was own up to the truth, and it seems no-one can see it.
There was one other thing that really bothered me. Prediction of the future plays a huge part of this book. It's what motivates the biggest plot movement. But there doesn't seem to be much reflection on what the ability to predict the future means. There are two independant predictions of one scene in Imriel's life. No-one knows what it means, but it does come to pass. And despite the fact that this moment was "fated," Imriel still seems to harbor regrets about the events that led up to that moment. But, in a world where fate was that strongly proven, wouldn't that have a really big idea on people's ideas of regret and responsibility? It seems not; or at least not in Carey's imagination. Instead, she raises the conundrum only to ignore it.
Again, very well written, even if somewhat glacially paced. And also even if the "mayhaps" and "betimes" get old. And the lands of Alba (England) and Vralia (Russia) got an especially good treatment. Overall, I like it and will definitely continue on to Imriels last installment, at least sometime in the not too distant future....more
The third in a six book series about the quest of Rudi McKenzie and company to retrieve the Sword of the Lady from Nantucket Island, and then somehowThe third in a six book series about the quest of Rudi McKenzie and company to retrieve the Sword of the Lady from Nantucket Island, and then somehow use it to defeat the Cutters (Church Universal and Triumphant). I liked it better than the first two installments, but not anywhere near as much as i liked the original Change trilogy, or the Nantucket series.
Things are moving along fairly nicely. We get some very cool glimpses of struggling new societies in a wrecked United States. But I find myself not caring that much about Rudi or any of his compatriots. As a hero, for me, he is simply too heroic and wonderful to be very likable. I found myself actually more interested in the military leader of the Cutters, and we only get a few glimpses of him. But he felt more real to me than anyone in the hero's party.
From here on out, there are going to be spoilers. So beware.
I had some problems with the way Stirling dealt with his narrative here. He tended to have major events come offscreen. Two main characters die in battle, but the fight that kills them is off-screen. I was very disappointed that Jake died. He was a promising new character, with some true flaws, and he had already shown signs of growth and had the potential to develop into an interesting character. I was more disappointed that we simply learn of his death after the action of the battle occurred.
Stirling does a similar thing with Odard, who has been a running character, and is the first hint that the main party actually is in danger. We don't see Odard get wounded. He dashes off in the battle, and then in the aftermath he is mortally wounded, but gets to have a lingering death scene. I could understand these cut-aways if we had to stick to a single point of view. Or if it was for the sake of realism. But it doesn't feel like the elisions serve much purpose at all.
Rudi's retrieval of the sword seemed similar to me. He goes into a room that is the heart of magic on Nantucket and sees the shape of the sword. Then there's a long vision where he gets to talk to God, in the form of his mother and two characters from the Nantucket books, and hears some nonsense about what caused the change and what his purpose is. (More on the nonsense later.) Then his followers see him emerging from the room, bloodied, holding the sheathed sword in his hand. So, the crucial moment that we have built up to for three books actually occurs offscreen. It's not that big a gap, and it might not even be important, but it still bothered me.
Now, for the nonsense. In the Nantucket series, Nantucket Island gets popped into prehistoric times in some alternate world timeline. It's a very cool series, and there's never much of an explanation of what happened to the island or why. But the characters do very cool things by introducing modern technology into a world where, for instance, Odysseus is a real person. In the Change series, electricity and explosions no longer work, basically killing off all technology, and almost all humanity as a result. The rumors are that the change occurred at Nantucket, and it occurred at the same time as the event occurred in the Nantucket series. So it looks like the two series are related.
Here, Rudy gets to Nantucket and has a vision where he sees something that is like the Universal mind. It appears to him as his own mom, and two characters from the Nantucket series. The vision explains to Rudy that it has appeared to him in a form that he can understand. So why the Nantucket characters? Its not like they add anything to Rudy's understanding. That's just a bone for readers and fans of the Nantucket series, but it doesn't seem to have any genuine purpose here.
Moreover, the god/mind/women tell Rudy that the Cutters are basically also a product of the gods, and result from god arguing with itself. That's fine, but then why am I rooting for Rudy? I'm uncomfortable with the idea that people have to put up with all of this shit simply because God is having a bad day and can't make up his mind. It sounds like a bad explanation with me, and it leaves me with many more questions than I had before.
And the God figure also explains that the Change occurred because man was in too much danger of destroying himself with technology, and so the god/mind decided to give man a do-over. I guess 95-99% destruction of humanity is better than total destruction. But there's a suggestion that the second chance is in the hope that man will do it better the second time around. But that makes me wonder how they will do it better, since the means of doing much of anything at all have been taken away. I did not see this, in any way, as a promise that electric and explosive power would be restored. So the suggestion that men would learn better the second time around rings hollow to me.
There were a few moving scenes toward the end. I actually liked Odard's death scene. Even more, I liked the scene in Maine where they had a big oath giving ritual. As much as I'm cold to Rudy, I found the oaths his followers gave to be touching. I also loved the introduction of another new, and promising character, in Asgerd. She's a woman who lost her betrothed and gave solemn oath that she would give ten-fold vengeance for the death. Her character is still just a sketch, but she is wounded, deeply flawed, and likable.
I really liked the first three books in the Emberverse, and to a certain extent, the strength of them keeps me going in this series. I like Stirling's vision of a ruined United States, and I think he's done a very good job showing a multitude of different societies growing out of the ashes. I don't much like the quest/fantasy basis of this second series. It's fun to encounter each new society, but it would be more fun if Rudy were less perfect. I'm sure that I will continue to at least the end of this series, and maybe even into the new trilogy to come. But I'm doing that more because I'm interested in Clan McKenzie, the Bearkillers, and the Portland Protection Association, and less because I have any real attachment to any of the heroes in this series. ...more
This one takes us through the space race, but amped up intensely by competition between the Draka and the U.S. Alliance. By 2014, much of the solar syThis one takes us through the space race, but amped up intensely by competition between the Draka and the U.S. Alliance. By 2014, much of the solar system has been colonized, terra-forming is more than just a dream, and the advances in bio-engineering are mindblowing, including genetically designed mutant infantry, part baboon, part cat, part man.
The handling of the new technologies is a mixed bag. Sometimes Stirling's ideas are clever and extremely well presented. At other times I got the feeling, one common to his books, that he was in love with hardware for its own sake.
And then there are the things he did that didn't make much sense to me. By 1970, the Draka have developed a bracelet that is embedded in nerve centers, and a remote control that will activate all the pain nerves in the body at once. They use this for control of badly out of line serfs. Wouldn't they also develop something similar to stimulate pleasure centers. What would such a device do to a culture? Think of the recreational possibilities. But even more, in terms of operant conditioning, the ability to reward serfs with boosts of absolute pleasure would do way more to get serfs in line than just about anything I can think of. And it would have the potential to reduce people into totally unthinking pleasure addicts -- almost perfect slaves. But it's not on Stirling's radar because he always seems to want to focus on the sadistic.
There are all the familiar Stirling elements here. Aside from the sadism and cruelty of the Draka, and the extensive descriptions of military hardware, we also get fairly large sized helpings of extremely competent military personnel and lesbian sex. I sometimes think that there is no world in the Stirling multi-verse that doesn't have these, or at least no world worth writing about.
There are returning characters from the past books, and their children and grandkids. Their interactions sometimes pushed past the limits of credibility. In particular, the kids of an escaped serf are now spies, and they get sent back on a mission to the plantation from which their mother escaped. Then, they both run into the main villain/hero of the book, Yolande. And this happens in ways that forced a suspension of disbelief at least once to often.
As for the chief here/villain of the book. We start in her teen years, and I found them to be dull. By the middle of the book, she goes crazy and becomes one of the worst monsters I've seen. (view spoiler)[The Draka invade India in the 1960s. After one battle, she and her lesbian love look over the prisoners and pick out one to have some fun with - the spy I talked about earlier. She would rather not do it, so she convinces her love to send the serf to quarters and to go for a walk with her. During the walk, they stumble into a firefight, and her lesbian love is killed (as it turns out, by the spy's brother which is one of the coincidence pushing problems). She returns to the serf/spy and tortures her, because somehow this hyper-rational Draka has decided that the death of her love is the serf/spy's fault. Then she gets one of the pain bracelets and continues to torture her with pure pain for a couple of years. And this may not be the worst that she does. (hide spoiler)] Despite the craziness, I thought the main character lacked depth.
There's a fourth book, and its not included as part of the series. This book finishes the story of the Domination of the Draka, and its a solid conclusion. I wasn't disappointed, but neither was I wowed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I was looking forward to this because I had heard a lot about how terrible the Draka are. And, as is so often the case, they didn't live up to their bI was looking forward to this because I had heard a lot about how terrible the Draka are. And, as is so often the case, they didn't live up to their billing. I also thought, as an early book, this would likely go deeper into the cool idea Stirling has, and have less of the surface adventure story that he usually delivers. On that, I could not have been more wrong.
The story is basically a drawn out battle with nearly impossible odds between a Draka paratrooper unit and Nazi mechanized infantry. Sterling almost falls into the trap of being more interested in his guns than his people, but I thought there was enough meat on the bones of the main character to support this story.
The Draka are ruthless bastards, hyper-rational, and firm believers in their superiority as a master race. There's an interesting tension here, because the master race belief isn't particularly rational, and it doesn't tend to make the bast use of human resources. Also, a culture devoted to the preservation of the aristocracy is doomed to failure. The Draka have managed to sustain theirs by relentless expansionism, but there is always a limit to expansion no matter, and when that limit gets reached, the aristocracy will start to turn on itself. Either the older heirs will have to exclude their family members, and thus create internal tension, or the property will get split too thin and threaten the foundations of the society.
The Draka should be more aware of these looming problems than they seem to be. And that strikes me as odd, because it looks like Stirling is aware of them, and the Draka are not stupid. So I'm left wondering what explains their blind spots. So I have some concerns about Stirlings construction. But I am curious where he takes this, so I'm sure I will continue on to the next book, and may read the whole series....more
I liked this one the best of the Draka books. In the 2400s, in the Draka universe, Gwen Ingolfsson gets too close to a wormhole experiment that goes aI liked this one the best of the Draka books. In the 2400s, in the Draka universe, Gwen Ingolfsson gets too close to a wormhole experiment that goes awry. Thus, she gets shifted to an alternate Earth: ours, in the late 1990s. Well, maybe not ours exactly. I'd like to think she got shifted to the alternate Earth where I managed to get all the hot girls I lusted after in high school (assuming, hopefully, that there is such a possible world).
After getting her bearings, Gwen commences her nefarious plot to take over the planet. In her first three years, she introduces a microbe that eats oil spills without any adverse side effect. She gives the U.S. government access to superconductors that will increase energy efficiency many-fold, and make the US entirely independent of foreign oil. Worse, she markets a new algae that desalinates ocean water for almost no cost, and will solve the water shortage problem in the U.S. West and in other desert areas, making it possible to make, for example, the Sahara into a garden spot. Clearly, this woman must be stopped.
Fortunately, there's a badass detective from Manhattan who is on her trail. And the remnants of the humans from Alpha Centari have sent a cyber-warrior to chase her down. The cop is after her because she killed twenty drug dealers immediately following her arrival, using her knife, her bare hands, and one shot from her ray gun. She also killed an investment banker and stored his cut up body in the fridge, so she could use his apartment for a while before the smell got too bad. The cyber-warrior is after her because he's trying to save this human race from the horrors of the Draka: horrors like plentiful drinking water, limitless energy supplies, and a cleaner environment.
Actually, Gwen is a seriously bad person, and despite the great things she's done, it's still very easy to root against her. The end result of a Draka dominated universe is troubling, because it seems like its probably a pretty good place. But how can it be good, if its run by such predatory assholes? This is a lingering question that haunts this book. Yes, I'm rooting against the Draka here, but the alternative doesn't sound all that great either. People, left on their own, are probably either going to destroy the planet or themselves.
Forget the ideas, though. This is a well paced, and entertaining action thriller. It's the sort of thing that Stirling does very well, and he pulls this one off. Better, I don't think you would need to read any of the first three books to understand this one. It stands on its own, while being a perfectly fine sequel. All in all, this is very well done....more
More and more, I'm thinking of Stirling as a guy who makes mediocre books out of really cool ideas. Here, an alien race terraformed Venus and Mars a cMore and more, I'm thinking of Stirling as a guy who makes mediocre books out of really cool ideas. Here, an alien race terraformed Venus and Mars a couple of million years ago. It made a kind of zoo out of Venus, populating it with all sorts of Earth critters, and then setting up a sentinel for observation. This race, apparently, is so advanced that it can go to the trouble of terraforming an entire planet, and then just leave it alone without seeming to use it for anything.
That premise is the jumping off point for an alternate history. When the space programs did the first drive-by of Venus back in 1962, they found a planet very capable of supporting life, instead of an 800 degree hellhole with an almost entirely CO2 atmosphere. So a probe was launched, and not only was life discovered, but humanoid life. This diverted the course of Earth history. JFK gets a second term. The cold war comes to an early end as governments focus obsessively on the exploration and colonization of Mars and Venus.
This is an extremely cool premise. But Stirling does what he seems to do too easily. He sticks in his stock characters, and runs them through an adventure that seems like a coy reworking of The Lost World or One Million Years B.C. As always, his hero is a brash and hyper-competent guy with a quasi-military background. You could take Marc in this book and plug him into almost any other Stirling hero without noticing much of a difference. This time, the hero is Cajun, and that means he starts some of his interior monologues with the word "Mais", and he makes a roux once. Otherwise, he's the same guy I've seen at least five times before.
He and some other hyper-competent folks go on a rescue mission, trying to save the crew of a downed Russian shuttle. Along the way there is a Russian plot, the possibility of a love triangle, the mystery of a saboteur, Neanderthals with AK-47s, and some other engaging possibilities. For the most part, these threads simply fizzle. The action remains fast paced, well described, and fun. But there is so much possibility here, some just from the set-up, and other bits from plot tensions that Stirling deliberately created. And he just doesn't do much with the material he's created. To me, it felt like he just got lazy. To a certain extent, this book feels like an homage to Burroughs. It's almost as if Stirling couldn't bring himself to take his premise seriously, and yet he doesn't make a really good joke out of it either. Great premise, but disappointing execution....more
This book highlights both Stirling's strengths and weaknesses. His main strength is the power of his underlying ideas, and the depth with which he hasThis book highlights both Stirling's strengths and weaknesses. His main strength is the power of his underlying ideas, and the depth with which he has thought them out. The premise is that the entire northern hemisphere basically got wiped out by meteors in the 19th century, but Britain managed to relocate some of its population and retain its power base -- in India, Australia, and South Africa. Flash forward 250 years, but with technology lagging behind, and resources much different than they otherwise would be. So the land still has Empires, steam engines, etc...
His main weakness is in characterization. Even his best characters tend to be very thin, and this book doesn't have anything approaching his best characters. Everyone here seems to have come straight out of central casting. His other weakness is in doing fantasy. This becomes a problem in the latter half of the Emberverse. Here, it rears its head in the form of the Sisters of True Dreaming. These people have a genetic trait that allows them to see parallel, possible worlds. It's a neat advantage, because it can let them know precisely what will happen next, and thereafter. The problem with this, for me, is that these woman are kept brutally oppressed by their Russian masters, and have been for a couple of centuries. But the book itself shows what an enormous advantage they would have in any tactical or strategic encounter. So how did they not overcome their oppression? It makes little sense to me.
But that's not why the book fell flat for me. Instead, it fell flat because I thought the entire thing was a rather unimaginative story hitched onto a very cool idea. The surprises were more like winks, because everything happened just as one would expect in this sort of tale. In other words, there was no need for a Sister of True Dreaming, because everything proceeded as if it were on rails. While diverting, and easy to read, this was not nearly his best....more