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 novWARNING: 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....more
This is the umpteenth Vorkosigan Saga novel, long salivated after by all right and proper fans (whose ranks do include me, as fair warning), and likeThis is the umpteenth Vorkosigan Saga novel, long salivated after by all right and proper fans (whose ranks do include me, as fair warning), and like all books in the series it functions as a stand-alone and even would serve as a decent introduction to the series. It's not the best introduction, but anyone who comes to the series through this novel will have no trouble keeping up with the plot here and will also not be spoiled on any major events from earlier on, except for Mirror Dance -- but to be fair, just knowing that the series continues is a spoiler for Mirror Dance.
What makes the Vorkosigan Saga unique in my experience (and if there are any other series that share this quality, please, let me know!) is that it is a very long-running series where each book does stand-alone yet which carries the same set of characters throughout (with the occasional addition or subtraction) and in which the characters undergo fundamental change throughout, significant, life-altering experiences that can't be brushed off or reset in the next volume. The best volumes in the series are, in fact, those that deal with those life-altering experiences.
Cryoburn does not fall into that category. Instead, it falls into the slightly-less-satisfying but still exceptional category of Vorkosigan Saga novels that use the science fiction setting to explore the effect of technological innovation on human society. Unlike many science fiction writers, Bujold has little interest in the physics of her universe; she hand-waved some wormhole-aided space travel technology and then never gave it another thought. The technology Bujold is interested in exploring is the technology of life and death. Many of her novels explore what strange subcultures we might create given a workable uterine replicator (Falling Free, Ethan of Athos, and Cetaganda leap to mind, and the technology is important in nearly all of the others); this novel explores in depth what strange distortions the cryochamber (a technology that allows freezing and reliable reviving of humans near -- or recently -- dead) might work through society.
I don't think Bujold gets enough credit for how science fiction -y her novels are. Not hard SF -- we get no lovingly technical infodumps of any of these technologies -- but true soft SF of the sort Ursula LeGuin writes, extrapolating futures frightening for how very human they are. I believe, in every Bujold novel, in the way her societies have been distorted. But unlike much thoughtful soft SF, Bujold always bears in mind that she is writing an entertaining story first. I suspect this is why it's easy for people to brush her off. There is nothing didactic about her writing, and the social extrapolation is always either essential to the plot (in which case you can look at it as purely plot-related) or done in small little asides that, if you are racing to get to the end, are very easy to overlook. She also takes time to make the reader laugh, often -- something I wish far more science fiction authors would do.
So Cryoburn works in both those ways. Like many a Miles novel before it, it's a fast-paced adventure wherein Miles happens to people, and their lives (and worlds) are skewed in his wake. Like recent Miles novels, Cryoburn very much benefits from having two POV characters besides Miles; these POVs let us see more of the human cost of his manic forward momentum. One of the alternate POVs, a young boy named Jin, is very well-done and makes this the first Vorkosigan novel since The Warrior's Apprentice that is fundamentally YA-friendly. (The other POV is Armsman Roic, who though wonderful in the novella "Winterfair Gifts" is used mainly for plot-advancement here.) And like all Vorkosigan Saga novels, everything comes together in a hectic (but never confusing) climax with Miles the victor.
But after that satisfying (though not world-shattering) climax comes the denouement, which was telegraphed from page one (and which Bujold has repeatedly told readers was next for the series) and which I had been dreading from the moment I heard this book was going to be published. And it feels. . . strange. It left me off-balance, and while I'm sure it was supposed to leave me off-balance I can't help but wonder if Bujold just chickened out. The Aftermaths section (a perfectly pitched call-back to the first Vorkosigan novel, Shards of Honor) was delicate, and so very right (it's a set of five drabbles), but. . . it will likely leave any new readers confused and cold, and to longtime fans it feels like the only "To be continued" of the series, because it screams for elaboration.
On the other hand, it does work, intellectually, as a cap for a series that has produced three Hugo-winning novels, one Nebula-winning novel, and a number of Hugo- and Nebula-winning short stories and novellas. So it is entirely possible that I am left unsatisfied simply because it's over. Again....more
The premise sounds a bit juvenile and silly, and the book is anything but. It is moving and lyrical and raises questions about family and identity thaThe premise sounds a bit juvenile and silly, and the book is anything but. It is moving and lyrical and raises questions about family and identity that are rarely addressed. It is a coming-of-age tale in the absolute best sense, and has wonderful things to say about how our past shapes us....more
I can't even rate this book, simple as the question of "How much did you like it?" would seem to be. It is horrifying, I feel dirty after finishing itI can't even rate this book, simple as the question of "How much did you like it?" would seem to be. It is horrifying, I feel dirty after finishing it, and it is undeniably brilliant. I will admit I do not have a strong stomach for brutality -- I couldn't finish Don Quixote because I just could not stomach the continual beating of that poor old man -- but while the violence in Don Quixote is casual, the violence in The Wasp Factory is elevated to ritual, and there isn't a moment of it that isn't necessary for the story. (Well, except maybe the battle with the Hare. But a case can be made even for that.) Thinking about it critically, perhaps the only flaw is the psychoanalysis at the end -- it would almost have been more powerful had the twist come and the book simply stopped. But beyond that, reading it was an experience I almost wish I could have erased from my memory, but only just almost....more
This was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I found it truly delightful. I rarely read romances because I have no patience for swooning heroines andThis was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I found it truly delightful. I rarely read romances because I have no patience for swooning heroines and brooding heroes, and though one of my favorite authors cites Heyer in general and this book in particular as an inspiration, it took me some time to pick it up.
I had no trouble with the amount of period detail, because it seemed no more overwhelming than reading any period piece (such as Jane Austen, who is mentioned a couple of times in the text); indeed, it was set out in a fairly accessible way, which it often is not when reading something written during that time period. I also had no trouble with the time spent on description, particularly of clothing -- Heyer uses her descriptive passages well, always making sure that they are accomplishing either some character-building or at the very least are humorous. (In many cases they were both.) I did find the characters drawn a trifle broadly for my taste -- each person, when introduced seemed so much a stereotype that I worried the plot would be wholly predictable.
However, once all the principal parties were introduced, Heyer was able to just set her characters at one another, and this was where she soared for me. I giggled throughout the novel, and actually found myself dog-earing pages with particularly witty dialogue so I could read them to my boyfriend later on. I found Jenny a heroine after my own heart, particularly because she would have laughed at anyone even attempting to call her one.
And that was why I loved the ending so very much. The novel has no ". . .and they lived happily ever after", and that makes it feel far realer than a romance has any right to be. There is no melodrama in this novel, no great stores of passion; it is simply two people finding contentment with each other, and discovering that if the choice is between passion and contentment, contentment is to be preferred. Truly, a novel after my own heart, and one I can heartily recommend....more
To start, a passion play is "a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering, and death." (Thank you Wikipedia! EmTo start, a passion play is "a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering, and death." (Thank you Wikipedia! Emphasis my own.) The title is thus a significant hint as to what sort of story this is; judging from the few reviews I've spotted online, not enough people got this going in.
That out of the way, this is an impressive first novel. Stewart's pacing is steady, his characters are well-drawn (if a bit stereotypical), and his prose is assured. The novel works equally well as science fiction, with its dystopic future and telepathic narrator, and as a mystery, with its cast of distinct suspects and very memorable dead man. It's lean and taut and packs a punch.
I actually wished it were a little less lean -- while I was content to simply wonder about how the Redemption Presidency came about, and why the police hired private contractors to do their detective work, and how they managed to get around that pesky first amendment right to freedom of religion, I really felt the novel needed a bit more of an infodump about the narrator's psychic abilities. They were central to the plot (whereas all the governmental stuff was mere backdrop) and I couldn't figure out a couple of key points (mostly whether or not anyone knew she was a shaper, and what the difference was between shapers and empaths) that would have changed how I read several scenes.
Despite that dissatisfaction, this is a powerful novel. Stewart has said "I wanted to write a book about moral choice. . . [to] create a society in which everyone cared passionately about moral choice." At the end I think I would quibble over whether there was a choice at all, but I didn't really care, because Stewart succeeded so well in capturing the tone of those sorts of moments, the agony of a crisis of faith and the relief in re-committing oneself, even in a pyrrhic fashion. Despite the SF world-building and mystery plot, this is an intimate novel, one that rises and falls with how well the reader responds to Diane's voice. The novel starts with the following:
When I try to write it down, it dies: I find myself speaking with my father's polished, thoughtful voice. But what I want to do is shout until my heart cracks, shout like a preacher at a Redemption service. I want God to grant me a voice that will shatter these concrete walls like the ramparts of Jericho. I want to speak in tongues my damnation, make you all see that this isn't just about the murder of Jonathan Mask, but about law and God and justice.
It's a dark time and we all sound like the Bible.
If that works for you, you will very likely love this novel. I did....more
I get why a ton of people love this book. The magic system is incredibly well-developed and fairly interesting -- I may not like magic that works by aI get why a ton of people love this book. The magic system is incredibly well-developed and fairly interesting -- I may not like magic that works by a system of arbitrary rules, but I know plenty of people who read just for such things. The plot is fast-paced -- I may be tired of stories where the all of the conflict derives from the protagonist not having information that everyone else in the story has, but again, I am aware that this is simply one of my own person pet peeves. And, of course, while recent years have started remedying the defect, we have a long way to go before I start complaining about reading about too many spunky heroines, even if they're only sketchily developed.
But there were too many little things that annoyed me about this book for me to love it, or even really like it, despite the fact that I blew through it in half a day.
To start, while it's clear that Nix spent a lot of time developing the magic system, with its Charter Magic vs. Free Magic and bell ringing necromancy, I would have enjoyed the book more had he spent just as much time developing the rest of the world. The Old Kingdom is vaguely medieval England; Ancelstierre is vaguely early-20th century England; but neither place feels like more than a bare-bones sketch. And while Nix was apparently trying for a pseudo-England with more gender equality (Sabriel is takes classes in both fighting and etiquette at her posh all-girls boarding school, and it's clear that gender is no bar to Sabriel being respected as the Abhorsen) his imagination seemed to fail him in really extrapolating how different that world might be. So, for instance, there are still mores against unmarried men and women traveling together -- mores that include placing the blame all on the female partner -- and every person with any power Sabriel meets is male, and she's surprised when she finds a dead mage who is female. (The book passes the Bechdel Test on the strength of two half-page long conversations Sabriel has with female children.) The world is also strangely empty of people, which is all the more noticeable because of how many Dead there appear to be.
The prose was another negative. Most of it was fine -- nothing flashy, but serviceable. But every couple chapters there would be a horribly clunky bit of exposition that totally threw me out of things. For example:
She hadn't thought beyond her own concern for her father. Now, she was beginning to expand her knowledge of him, to understand that he was more than just her father, that he was many different things to different people.
Making this hammering of the point home worse, to me at least, is that it comes after only a single incident, not after the sort of succession of conversations implied in the text.
And while the fast-paced plot kept me turning the pages, it really cut into my appreciation of Sabriel as a character. She's traveling for weeks, but because of what I can only assume is a horror of pages of dialogue, the only time she's shown trying to figure out the puzzles set before her or interrogate the people who are clearly withholding information from her is when she's about to be interrupted by yet another attack. At one point she and two other characters spend six days at sea -- but only start to discuss their plans for when they put to shore as they're entering a harbor, so of course their conversation gets cut off. This left me with the impression that she was doing no thinking at all, just falling from one disaster into another and making it out mostly through blind luck and the deus ex machina of her father's plans.
Still, Nix did keep me turning the pages, even if he used a trick like ending the chapters in the middle of the action scenes to do it. And the magic, particularly the bell ringing, was fascinating. And this novel was published early in his career (I think it's his second?), so it's quite likely that he improved in at least some of those areas. I wouldn't recommend against this novel, or Nix in general; it just was not strong enough for me to be excited for it....more