WARNING: No spoilers for Chill, but plenty of spoilers for Dust.
Chill picks up almost directly after Dust ended, when the ship is reeling from the nov...moreWARNING: No spoilers for Chill, but plenty of spoilers for Dust.
Chill picks up almost directly after Dust ended, when the ship is reeling from the nova blast and the crew is reeling from all of the deaths, particularly Rien's sacrifice to bring the new angel -- an A.I. integrating all of the splinter A.I.s that developed when the ship broke down centuries before -- into existence. Perceval is now captain, but she is barely functional as she deals with her grief, and there is an enormous power vacuum that the remaining Exalts of Rule and Engine -- both those for and against Perceval's captaincy -- are scrambling to fill. And while the A.I.s have all been integrated into the new angel, it is bothered by enormous black spaces in its awareness of the ship, due either to damage or enemy machinations.
And then a very dangerous prisoner escapes, so two teams -- one led by Tristen, the other by Benedick -- are sent in pursuit.
The plot is made up entirely by that pursuit, and I found that choice disappointing. The entire plot of Dust was Perceval and Rien fleeing through the fascinating landscape of the half-ruined ship; to have the entire plot of this one be another chase through a now-much-more-familiar landscape just seemed repetitive. There are a couple new and exciting set-pieces -- particularly a scene involving massive intelligent fungi doing something deliciously unexpected -- but ultimately I felt a bit let down by Bear's imagination. What stood out most about Dust for me was how gloriously imaginative the world-building was; with that thrill behind me this was just another SF action novel.
Or would have been, were it not for the characters.
If there was one flaw in Dust, it was that all of the characters were ciphers to me for 2/3 of the novel. Not so here. Dust and Chill ended up being mirror images of each other: the first all ideas and no character development; the second few (new) ideas but wonderful, complex characters with long histories and complicated relationships. The chase plot is really just window-dressing for internal, character-driven action, as the characters left standing after Dust figure out who they want to be in this new world.
Unfortunately, window-dressing or not the chase plot was still there, and it required a resolution, and that resolution was something of a deus-ex-machina. It also left a pretty significant plot thread dangling, as this is the middle book of a trilogy. But for these characters I would forgive a great deal more than that.(less)
This book is a fractal -- no matter how you zoom in or out, the basic structure remains the same. It starts incredibly zoomed in on the three (maybe f...moreThis book is a fractal -- no matter how you zoom in or out, the basic structure remains the same. It starts incredibly zoomed in on the three (maybe four) main characters, then proceeds to zoom out. . . and out. . . and out. . . until the story encompasses issues as large as the destruction of a world and the resurrection of a long-thought-dead alien society. But, (I think purposefully) to emphasize its fractal nature, the climax comes in an instant and then the whole story comes crashing back down to the very zoomed-in. I think this novel will work or not for you based on how well you adapt to that sudden drop. It didn't, particularly, for me, as I was left feeling distanced from the people I had cared about since the beginning, but intellectually I have a great deal of admiration for the skill the novel showed.(less)
This is one of those unfortunate books where the promise of a fine story and impressive world-building is completely stifled by mediocre writing. Ther...moreThis is one of those unfortunate books where the promise of a fine story and impressive world-building is completely stifled by mediocre writing. There are some startlingly powerful images in the novel, and some impressive set pieces, but there is so much dreck that I wanted to give up on the book from the very first page.
If you read science fiction mainly to explore well-imagined alien worlds, there is a fair amount here to enjoy. It takes 77 abysmal pages to finally reach the Entire, but when the book does arrive there, there are plenty of strange creatures and a several interesting concepts that Kenyon clearly enjoyed playing with. She could have used a better editor -- I really only needed to have the Entire's time-sense explained to me once, and the same thing goes with the bright looking like boiling porridge, the river Nigh passing through all the Primacies, and quite a few other world-building elements that got repeated ad infinitum. But still, by the end of the novel I had a sense that there was this strange, chaotic, haphazard place out there, and that is saying something for the scope of Kenyon's imagination.
However, nearly every word I read made me want throw the book far, far away. Everything about Kenyon's craft is obvious -- the sentences plod rather than dance, the story takes all of the most predictable turns, and the characters. . . there is no stretch of the imagination that will let me call them people. They are mere compilations of wants that Kenyon moves about the page by means of cattle prod: Quinn wants his family and will seek them no matter what the danger (even when the danger puts him at risk of being totally useless to his family); Anzi wants to please Quinn (actually, every "good" character wants to please Quinn, for no reason that is apparent to me, except authorial fiat); all of the high-ups at Minerva want their profit margins to increase, and that is all they want because that is how Kenyon makes them the bad guys (and apparently the want of profit makes them want to make the most inhumane choice, even when there are better options available). There is no complexity to these characters, no point where they are at war with themselves because they want mutually exclusive things, no point where what they want puts them in conflict with any sort of moral sense or where they wonder if what they want is a good thing or not. Kenyon's characters are flat, and that makes every conversation, every internal monologue absolutely torturous.
If there is a ray of light in that morass, it was the all-too-brief sections in Sydney's perspective among the Inyx. In those sections, Kenyon's ridiculously simplistic treatment of her characters actually worked, because Sydney's world is one of simple wants almost entirely in the present tense. Those sections I was able to actually enjoy -- though it's entirely possible that I'm just another girl who's a softie for a horse story.
But other than those brief moments with the Inyx, I really disliked reading this book, and even though the action finally picked up in the last fifty pages and the story has clearly just begin, I will definitely not be picking up the next book.
And that makes me a little sad, because the series has absolutely gorgeous covers.(less)
Tepper is an author that always engages in wondrously imaginative world-building and who weaves very complex plots with a multitude of viewpoints toge...moreTepper is an author that always engages in wondrously imaginative world-building and who weaves very complex plots with a multitude of viewpoints together seamlessly. She sometimes gets pigeonholed as an ecofeminist SF author, because ecology and gender roles are frequent topics in her novels, but she never lets her message (which is nothing more radical than that we should think of the consequences of our actions and always treat each other like human beings, rather than men and women treating each other as "other" and "alien") get in the way of telling an engaging story.
Six Moon Dance is the most complete novel I've read by her yet. The world is fascinating -- on first glance it is a matriarchy, but the relationship between the sexes is nowhere near as simple as the reader at first assumes; there is an undercurrent of unease from the very first chapter at the mention of "invisibles" and the Questioner; and all this against a backdrop of seismic activity that may or may not mean something. The characters, while never entirely fleshed out (a task nearly impossible given Tepper's propensity for perspective shifts every few pages) are both likable and relateable, and there was never a perspective I did not want to return to.
It is also a novel of big ideas, those things that SF is best at: as mentioned, it explores gender roles and human involvement with the environment; but it also weaves in an exploration of personal identity and cultural identity; justice and its enforcement and how that is affected by the experiences of the individuals acting as judges; what it means to be human; and it even does a good job at portraying a pretty convincingly alien alien race.
But what is best about the novel, the reason I can't stop smiling about it even while writing this review, is its core sense that life is absurd, and its absurdity, joyous. The climax is absolutely perfect, one of the few I've read where the fate of the world is at stake and yet I was grinning and doubled over with laughter. What is gets absolutely right is that life simply isn't worth living if you can't embrace its compensatory joys.(less)
This is a difficult novel. Harrison's prose is meaty, but that is not where the difficulty lies; his characters are unlikeable, and while that is a ch...moreThis is a difficult novel. Harrison's prose is meaty, but that is not where the difficulty lies; his characters are unlikeable, and while that is a challenge, it is not insurmountable. The main difficulty lies in the novel's structure -- much of it is an elaborate smoke screen, ultimately having little to no effect on the resolution. This also makes the novel particularly difficult to review, as its true nature doesn't become evident until the last four chapters, but any mention of what is in those chapters (and what is in those chapters will make or break the novel for most readers) constitutes a giant spoiler.
Alas, I am committed to writing reviews that are as spoiler-free as possible, so I will focus on what the novel focuses on, which is that smoke screen.
The novel consists of alternating chapters from three perspectives, two sociopaths and one junkie. All three are running from something, and most of the novel is spent figuring out what they are running from and what turned them into sociopaths/junkies. In this sense the novel is akin to a character study, and I suspect it will work best for those people who generally like character studies. (I am one of those people, but I will admit it didn't work particularly well for me in this aspect because I'm not a big fan of sociopaths and junkies.) One perspective is set in contemporary England & America, with just enough detail to be immediately recognizable, and the other two are set in 2400 A.D., which is a future with plenty of SF world-building that Harrison spends very little time describing -- the world is catch-as-you-can, and readers who aren't used to hard SF will likely be hopelessly confused at points while readers who are used to these sort of milieus will be able to fill in the blanks fairly easily. There is some action, but most of the novel is spent getting into these peoples' heads.
But at its heart, and despite the first 350 pages, Light isn't a character study. It's a Big Idea story, and its Big Idea is what constitutes the spoiler, so I have to talk around it. The jacket description actually does as much as it can to help readers to that Big Idea -- it doesn't describe the set-up and first act like most jacket descriptions, but instead provides clues to the elements astute readers need to keep track of in order to decipher the resolution. That resolution will determine whether the novel succeeds or fails for most readers, so anyone who attempts this novel needs to be prepared to read it to the end to give it a fair shot, and unfortunately even reading to the end will not guarantee that you will like it. Ultimately, I decided I did not like the resolution Harrison provides, but I get it, and I can see why other people love it, and I will defend his pure craft that went into making this book. This is the rare novel I will recommend despite not having enjoyed it.(less)