Comedy does not entail grabbing the reader by the shoulders and screaming in his face "THIS IS *FUNNY*! THIS IS *HILARIOUS*!! *LAUGH*, DAMN YOU, **LAA...moreComedy does not entail grabbing the reader by the shoulders and screaming in his face "THIS IS *FUNNY*! THIS IS *HILARIOUS*!! *LAUGH*, DAMN YOU, **LAAAUUUUUGH**!!!"(less)
It is unfortunately quite tempting simply to list Mr. Abnett's extensive body of work-for-hire, to snidely imply (or even to declare outright) that he...moreIt is unfortunately quite tempting simply to list Mr. Abnett's extensive body of work-for-hire, to snidely imply (or even to declare outright) that he is therefore a hack, and then invite the reader to draw the appropriate conclusion about this original work.
Tempting, but not (entirely) fair. Even scribblers, after all, must eat and pay bills. And better, always, to judge a work by its own merits than by pedigree.
I can say this in praise of it: Triumff, Her Majesty's Hero is a quick, breezy read, mostly amusing, and it is set in an interesting and unique alternate history.
The rest of what I have to say about it is not praise. Alas.
The interesting background is also extremely inconsistent. This may be intentional on Abnett's part — most of the inconsistency seems to come from a clear choice: "be consistent, or go for the laugh"; and he goes for the laugh every time. In a spoof, this would work, but Triumff is also a white-knuckle thriller, and internal inconsistencies and illogicalities conflict with this end. Or at least undercut its effectiveness.
Another problem is characterization. Nearly everyone who is not the eponymous protagonist aspires to one-dimensionality, most being mere collections of attributes with a name attached. And everyone who is the protagonist, Sir Rupert Triumff, is a collection of wildly inconsistent attributes that fail to cohere into a memorable character, or even a caricature. Is he a drunken oaf? A lovable rogue? A dissipated gentleman? A quick-witted, experienced spy? A bold adventuring explorer? An upperclass twit? A noble guardian of the superior non-West against the rapacious and destructive an all-but-evil western world? The answer is any of the foregoing which serves the present scene, subject to renegotiation in any and all future scenes.
Which is a bit surprising, as Abnett claims Triumff has been residing in his head for two decades or more. One would hope for a more memorable character, considering that.
Further marring what was meant to be, and ought to have been, a light-footed romp full of delights is the plot construction. That the A plot and the B plot are entirely unrelated and seem to be together in the same book only due to a shotgun marriage would not, in the normal course of things, be a deal breaker. Unfortunately, the A plot, while serviceable in terms of content, is constructed in a way that is jarringly discordant with the world in which it takes place.
Triumff lives in a world in which Great Britain and Spain allied under Elizabeth I, Britain became dominant in the world through use of magic, and still rules nearly all in 2009 under the reign of Elizabeth XXX (go ahead, snicker, it's certainly intentional), with no technological advancement, and only slight magical advancement over Liz I's period. (There *is* technological advancement elsewhere, and a very funny if highly unlikely reference to VisageBook.) So, when I tell you that the plot is structured like the unholy child of modern comic book "decompressed storytelling" and Dan Brown, you have some idea how well the ticking bomb climax, which takes up nearly a third of the total novel, fits with the book's milieu — which is to say, it doesn't.
Which is further to say that Triumff, Her Majesty's Hero is thoroughly contemporary in the most irritating, thoughtless, and (though I've not dealt with this aspect) politically correct ways possible.
A pity, too, because the premise had much potential. Alas, the result is only superficially diverting and, apart from a few very funny lines, will quickly fade from memory.
When Bujold announced that she was working on "an Ivan book", you probably heard my squeals of delight echoing off the ionosphere.
Those squeals were f...moreWhen Bujold announced that she was working on "an Ivan book", you probably heard my squeals of delight echoing off the ionosphere.
Those squeals were fully and completely justified. Arguably Bujold's funniest book, fully satisfying, and makes me wish she would write another dozen Ivan adventures.
Also, equally happily, the latter part of the book, had it been written from a different point of view, could almost have been a Simon Illyan adventure. It isn't (quite), but he's prominent in the best way possible.(less)
The follow-up to "how to escape from a secret prison planet and save all the prisoners while you're at it", this installment in the Honor Harrington s...moreThe follow-up to "how to escape from a secret prison planet and save all the prisoners while you're at it", this installment in the Honor Harrington series didn't grip me nearly as much. It felt, frankly, like Weber had a checklist of things that needed to get done before the next book, and he went about ticking them off, rather than telling a unified story.
That said, the parts are mostly very good, even if they didn't sum up to much more than "man, I'm going to pull out ALL the stops next book". I particularly enjoyed the results of the long-term story in the People's Republic of Haven, and have been consistently wrong as to who is going to end up as the series' Napoleon figure.(less)
The first half of this is AWFUL. Dreadfully, painfully bad. Middle-school romantic angst among middle-aged military folk? Thank you, no.
But then the adventure plot kicks in (after 200-ish pages of dreck), and that part of the story is very, very good. Honor Harrington gets captured by the France-during-the-Terror analog, and the bulk of the action happens around her, as she's sequestered due to being a high-value political prisoner. Even with her out of the action, the action is good fun, and ends on a promise that the next book may even be better than the good part of this one.
But that first half is a painful, painful slog.(less)
Teddy Roosevelt's memoir of the less-than-six-months' existence of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit formed for the sole purpose of serving i...moreTeddy Roosevelt's memoir of the less-than-six-months' existence of the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit formed for the sole purpose of serving in the Spanish-American War, is a breezy and entertaining read.
It is also a rather astonishing look into an alien world --- the world that used to be the United States, but is no longer.
Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1898. Though he doesn't make this clear in the book, he was the de facto Secretary and basically in charge of the Navy. And he resigned in order to form a new cavalry regiment and go serve on the front lines of the war that everyone knew was coming.
Try to imagine ANY modern politician doing this. Some, certainly, served in the military prior to their political careers. Many, in fact, did so in furtherance of those same careers. None, not one, would voluntarily surrender political power to risk death. It's inconceivable.
Roosevelt, for all his swaggering bombast, did just that.
TR not only tells the story of the regiment from his perspective, he contrasts his observations and experiences with Spanish accounts of the battles in which he was involved (and, not surprisingly, finds them wanting), as well as including an appendix of "Corrections" where he shares observations from other Rough Riders that contrast somewhat with his memories, as well as taking apart completely another book that supposedly told the story of the taking of Santiago, Cuba.
Another historical insight that doesn't get taught today is that at this time, the US Army was all but racially integrated. TR and the Rough Riders fought side by side with at least two black regiments, and while his attitude toward them is somewhat patronizing, it is far less so than one would expect for the period. And he expresses zero reservations about black troops wielding weapons, not even implicitly. The Rough Riders themselves had many full-blooded and half-breed Indians in their ranks, also without any hint of tension or discord.
(The armed forces were re-segregated under Democrat Woodrow Wilson, whose racist policies were carried through World War II.)
In all, an informative and entertaining read, though it does not supply the entire context that it might have (it was written for an audience that TR presumes -- correctly -- already knew that context), and he might have taken more time to let the reader get to know more of the soldiers whose names he lists so frequently. But these flaws are simple absences. In my quick reading, there is no flaw of inclusion in the book, only things that were not there that I wish had been.(less)
I believe this is Williamson's first novel. And if so, wow.
The plot structure is very Heinleinian --- which is to say, it (mostly) does not seem to be...moreI believe this is Williamson's first novel. And if so, wow.
The plot structure is very Heinleinian --- which is to say, it (mostly) does not seem to be structured at all beyond "one damned thing after another", and the type of story being told changes and shifts more than once during the story. It does not seem structured, but it is. The first half or so of the narrative is a picaresque, showing the reader the society that Williamson has created in Freehold. Then it becomes something altogether different.
The story follows Kendra Pacelli, an Earth native who begins the story as a logistics technician in the United Nations peacekeeping forces --- Earth's military. Very quickly (very quickly --- even as the setting is just being established) she comes under suspicion (falsely, of course) of using her position to line her pockets by selling military equipment on the black market. With a little luck, and some fast thinking, she evades arrest and makes her way into the embassy of the Freehold of Grainne, requesting political asylum.
In that very brief setup --- seriously, it's the first chapter --- Williamson manages to imply through a few well-chosen details just what sort of society Earth has become in the centuries between now and his story (revealed only toward the end to be roughly 2500 AD). This is another way in which he was clearly (and positively) influenced by Heinlein --- he weaves the background details into the narrative mostly through implication, but the reader feels certain of those implications.
So, Kendra escapes Earth, gets to Freehold, and the first half of the book is essentially the Utopian Tour, except that, as free and libertarian and capitalist as Grainne is, it's not some Platonic ideal. There are still rotten people, bad things can certainly happen. It's just that, under freedom and capitalism, things suck a lot less than under any other system.
Then, as stated, about halfway through, the narrative jumps gears and becomes something other than a libertarian fantasy. And thereafter it shifts another time or two. And none of these shifts is jarring*, unnatural, unforeshadowed, or off-putting. Again, the plotting is Heinleinian.
*(There are one or two that are intentionally jarring and left me going "ooooooh sh*t!"; there is none that yanked me out of the narrative thinking, "Yeah, right!")
As for flaws, there aren't many. Kendra Pacelli struck me as perhaps not the strongest characterization ever committed to paper. But then, she's got to be a character as well as a reader surrogate, and Williamson errs a little on the side of the surrogate, leaving her a bit bland through much of the story. That's more than made up for by the fact that the climax of the story had me sniffling and complaining that I must have something in my eye. Which, through most of the book, had not occurred to me as even a possibility.
All in all, this book kicks ass and left me wanting more. A lot more. Highly recommended.(less)
This is a collection, so I should break down my rating.
"A Logic Named Joe" ***** Murray Leinster not only predicted the internet, Google, and Amazon wi...moreThis is a collection, so I should break down my rating.
"A Logic Named Joe" ***** Murray Leinster not only predicted the internet, Google, and Amazon with remarkable accuracy in 1946, he did it in a hilarious story that also examined what an AI with a sense of humor but no desire to be sociable might mean in our world.
"Dear Charles" **1/2 Frankly, I read this story more than 6 months ago, and do not recall it. But I don't recall hating it, either, so it gets a gentleman's C.
Gateway to Elsewhere *** A delightful piece of alternate history, science fantasy fluff. A man comes into possession of an odd coin minted in a country that never existed, and uses it to get himself there. Turns out to be a land of genies and maidens, and while the genies have powers, they are bound by certain physical laws. For instance, a genie can talk any shape, of any size, but always retains the same mass. Fluff, but good fun.
The Duplicators**** Golden Age SF in the grand style, and a delightful exploration of economics, without ever seeming to be so. Link Denham, a ne'er-do-well, finds himself on a planet with Star Trek-ish duplicator technology -- and it's the worst thing that could possibly have happened. The planet has had duplicators for hundreds of years, and has lost all knowledge of how to actually make things because of it. Why farm when you can just duplicate food without any effort? Denham sees very quickly that letting such technology get out to the rest of the galaxy would destroy civilization as we know it, and sets to work neutralizing (but not destroying) the menace. An entirely entertaining romp, with more food for thought than one would expect, and keener understanding of how economics works than you get from any ten writers today. (And I haven't even mentioned the Uffts, the planet's native race!)
"The Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator" * The only clunker in the collection. Strains entirely too hard to be fun, and makes no sense at all. Literally none.
The Pirates of Zan **** Another brilliant example of economics in SFnal form, as well as some interesting sociological explanation. But that makes it sound boring, and it's anything but. Bron Hoddan was born and raised on the pirate planet of Zan, but left because the pirate life was boring and restrictive. Boring because in any year, there is only about 30 seconds of excitement, and restrictive because everyone on the planet has to appear (and, in fact, to be) poor and simple to avoid getting hanged for piracy. He goes to Walden, the most civilized planet in the galaxy, and gets himself arrested and sentenced to life in prison for using his brains. Escaping local authorities, he gains diplomatic protection at the Interstellar Embassy for political persecution, and goes on from there to, eventually, deciding that piracy -- of a sort -- might be just what the civilized planets need. This one is laugh-out-loud funny, non-stop entertaining, and a fine example of "the good old stuff". Bron Hoddan, I think, would have gotten along rather well with Ragnar Danneskjold, though they'd probably bicker a bit.
So, two excellent short novels, one very good short novel, one all-time classic short story, one inoffensive short, and one clunker of a short, adds up to an entirely worthwhile reading experience.
[This review is copyright 2012 by D. Jason Fleming and available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.](less)
This is a collection of two novels which tell a single story, Shards Of Honor and Barrayar.
Shards Of Honor is Bujold's first book and, judged in that...moreThis is a collection of two novels which tell a single story, Shards Of Honor and Barrayar.
Shards Of Honor is Bujold's first book and, judged in that light, it's very, very good. Judged against the rest of the Vorkosigan series, however, it comes off less well. The ingredients are there, physical adventure and well-thought out characters bouncing off each other, but they don't jell the way they do even in Bujold's second book, The Warrior's Apprentice (in the Young Miles omnibus).
Cordelia Naismith is the captain of a scientific survey mission from Beta Colony, studying a planet discovered in a new node in the wormhole nexus (Bujold's wonderfully 1980s means of bypassing the speed of light). Very quickly, she finds her crew slaughtered and herself prisoner of a soldier from Barrayar, a militarist, feudal planet that was isolated from galactic civilization for hundreds of years, only rejoined in the past century or so. And not just any soldier, either. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, the Butcher of Komarr. At first she fears him due to his reputation. But as they are thrown together, more or less alone (he's been betrayed by some of his soldiers, and the rest believe him dead), she comes to judge him as a good, even noble, man -- in spite of his own judgement that his reputation is at least somewhat deserved.
(An aside: The single most unbelievable aspect of the book, to me, is the notion that Cordelia views herself as unattractive. She is tall, red-headed, and her features are described at least once as "handsome" by another, I believe. Also, she's a scientist and a leader of men, strong in character. Clearly, this is some strange new definition of "unattractive" of which I was previously unaware.)
For some reason I've never been able to identify, I always enjoy Shards Of Honor a great deal while reading it, and then the enjoyment fades sharply after I finish it. So it's three, maybe four stars if I'm being generous.
Barrayar, on the other hand, needs no generosity. It kicks unholy ass. :)
Continuing Cordelia's story almost immediately after Shards (it picks up a day or two after the closing scenes of the earlier book), but written more than a half-dozen books (and two Hugos and two Nebulas) later, Bujold's firing on all cylinders in this one.
Aral and Cordelia are married, Cordelia's newly pregnant, and Aral is Regent of the Barrayaran Empire (for complicated reasons demonstrated in the earlier book). However, there are forces in Barrayaran society that do not appreciate the path events are taking, and they blame the Regent. Before the book is half over, a violent coup is in progress, and Cordelia and Aral are on the run again, this time separately -- Aral must plot a counterstrike, while Cordelia tries to keep the five year old Emperor hidden and alive.
It's brilliant, completely entertaining, exciting, and only gets better on rereading. Five stars. It's so good that I'm giving the whole omnibus five stars, rather than averaging the scores together.
(I was purposely vague, even refraining from spoiling things that would not have been considered spoilers to fans of the series when the book came out. I'm funny that way.)(less)