This book had a Goofus and Gallant characterization style that got more and more annoying as it was repeated throughout the book. The good characters,...moreThis book had a Goofus and Gallant characterization style that got more and more annoying as it was repeated throughout the book. The good characters, like our protagonist, are all smart, wise-cracking banterers, while the bad characters are all total jerkwads, and there's almost nobody in between. Nobody's just annoying or a bit of an idiot, and karmic justice is comically swift. The protagonist meets a virulent racist early in the book who dies of a heart attack a handful of pages later, while a soldier later in the book who's glorifying in his alien kills is the only human killed before the battle is over. It's morality in the style of children's cartoons: see Bad Man, see Bad Man get squashed.
The aliens were actually much more rounded than the humans, which I'd appreciate more if we spent more time with them. The aliens who hold elaborate singing battle openings and kill other species because they love them were definitely the most interesting characters in the book; pity they were only around for a few scenes.
I've read a later book by John Scalzi (not in this series) and liked it a lot more, so maybe this book was just an early effort before he'd gotten characterization down.(less)
Interesting premise, promising characters, disappointingly unsatisfying execution. A lot of threads are set up, but never really tied off--some from t...moreInteresting premise, promising characters, disappointingly unsatisfying execution. A lot of threads are set up, but never really tied off--some from the very beginning (what happened to the mad inventor who created the potato-powered world-hoppers?), some later on (what happened in the radioactive city?). Most of these aren't plot-essential, but there are so many little unresolved threads that they build into a sense that the story doesn't have a narrative--that it's just a series of discrete events, happening to happen. That applies to the characters as well, who don't really grow or change in a significant way.
This is a (multi-dimensional) travel story, so a lot of exploration and meandering is to be expected, but the stakes are too low and the characters' motivations too simple for there to be enough dramatic tension to make the story interesting. Lobsang wants to find out what's making creatures migrate (stampede?) across the dimensions; eventually, so does Joshua, and a character they meet along the way. But that's about it! And then they do. Yay? There's a world they visit where a hasty migration resulted in an accidental massacre, and this is meant to be a grim premonition of what could happen on Datum Earth if the situation continues, but there's never any clear timeline on when that might happen, never any sense that Datum Earth is in real danger. If the massacre had actually happened on Datum Earth, then the stakes might be higher.
As it is, there are no real villains (there's a nasty figure on Earth who's riling up the people who can't transfer, but he appears in a total of one scene and never interacts with the main characters), and the book almost goes out of its way to resolve conflict before it can get interesting. Joshua's first meeting with Lobsang feels at first like a near-kidnapping orchestrated by a shadowy near-omniscient AI backed up by a powerful global corporation--this is good! This shows promise! But then, after a single meeting, turns out Lobsang has ethics and isn't going to blackmail Joshua, so Joshua volunteers. Conflict resolved. Maybe we can have Joshua and Lobsang striving against the harsh natural worlds they cross, and that will be our conflict? We do have a scene where Joshua fights with a cluster of hostile sentients--danger! Possible bodily harm! But after the fight is over, as Lobsang points out, Joshua was never in real danger--the airship could have killed them all instantly if they'd become real threats. Conflict resolved. And so on, and so on. It's telling that the most destructive, disastrous thing that happens in the entire book happens on a totally different world than Joshua and Lobsang, completely separate from anything they've been doing.
It's still not an actively bad book--sometimes the atmosphere is genuinely eerie, the characters have funny interactions and dialogue, the new worlds are interesting--but it's not a good one, either, which is really disappointing in a book with Terry Pratchett's name on the cover.(less)
This is slow post-modern sci-fi. If any of those three descriptors made you wince, this is not the book for you. In a way, this book is funny; in anot...moreThis is slow post-modern sci-fi. If any of those three descriptors made you wince, this is not the book for you. In a way, this book is funny; in another way, every character is a walking advertisement for Prozac.(less)