3.5 stars. I feel sad to write a less-than-laudable review for anything that Ms. Bujold wrote, but this book was a little disappointing.
First of all...more3.5 stars. I feel sad to write a less-than-laudable review for anything that Ms. Bujold wrote, but this book was a little disappointing.
First of all "Ethan of Athos" is very short, a novella of barely 180 pages. Obviously the size is not a problem in itself but the cause of other issues, as for instance the flat and bidimensional characters. If someone else wrote this story I would have rated it higher, but I got to expect so much more from Ms. Bujold's actors. The other novellas from this series build up on the information from the previous novels and on Miles's character; but "Ethan of Athos" is a stand-alone story with (for all practical purpose) completely new characters, who don't have the time to "mature" in only 180 pages. Granted, Ethan is better profiled than Elli, but even him lacks in depth.
Second, there is the tension-issue that I can't charge to the number of pages. I just started reading "Falling Free" (the self-contained prequel to the series, set 200 years before the events of the main novels) and in less than 40 pages it already grabbed my attention much more than "Ethan of Athos" ever did up to the end. For a thriller, "Ethan of Athos" lacks quite a bit in suspense, and Ethan, as a character, is rather irresolute. We are told that he is stronger than he gives himself credit for, but I personally don't see that strength manifested very often, and I most definitely don't understand how (view spoiler)[turning Athos's population telepathic would serve the greater good of his home planet (hide spoiler)].(less)
A very pleasant surprise - well developed plot (even if at times a bit predictable), and strong characters. I was expecting the "mystery" to be in the...moreA very pleasant surprise - well developed plot (even if at times a bit predictable), and strong characters. I was expecting the "mystery" to be in the background, but it is an important part of this short novel. My only complaint was that at times it felt a bit slow.
What impressed me most was the flawless execution - Charlie Cochrane shows much attention to style. (less)
For such a quick read, "The Mountains of Mourning" is the heaviest story in the series so far (and I just finished Ethan of Athos): it drips with mess...moreFor such a quick read, "The Mountains of Mourning" is the heaviest story in the series so far (and I just finished Ethan of Athos): it drips with messages and lessons for tolerance, acceptance, and respect even more than Barrayar did.
Yes, it is a bona fide mystery, but the crime is only a pretext for exploring the implications of being different in a world that prizes above all physical perfection. This theme in itself is not new; what is new, however, is the fact that Ms. Bujold delves into the causality of this compulsion for corporeal superiority: the reason the population on Barrayar is so obsessed with perfect bodies can be found in its tumultuous history, when regular folk were not able to care of the sick and weak. The author looks with understanding at the poorer population who initially became so intolerant not from evilness but as a necessity to survive. Even Miles's final decision is a exhortation toward tolerance, if not forgetfulness.
I found this novella a wonderful, if melancholic, addition to the saga.
P.S. "The Mountains of Mourning" is not a stand-alone story: there are references to evens and characters from the previous novels that someone new to the series wouldn't grasp. (I know this for a fact since my sister started the series with this novella and she was thoroughly confused.)(less)
In spite of its several lacks, I mostly enjoyed By His Bootstraps, particularly because it condenses my personal theory about the quintessence of time...moreIn spite of its several lacks, I mostly enjoyed By His Bootstraps, particularly because it condenses my personal theory about the quintessence of time. ツ
Robert A. Heinlein imagines an applied example of "immovable history" (my home-brewed term), which postulates that an actor is not able to change any events (past and future) of his/her life: s/he can only fulfill the history. The fantasy genre (and not only!) makes great use of the concept in the form of prophecies, while science-fiction mostly uses the concept of time-travel to embody it.
What is notable about Heinlein's essay is that he touches on the aspect that makes most people shy away from this doctrine: the free-will. These people argue that if whatever is to happen will happen, then individuals are not responsible for their actions... In this regard Mr. Heinlein points out that, the actors in the middle of events are in no way constrained in their choices, and hence they always maintain their free-will.
"You are telling me that I did something because I was going to do something.” “Well, didn’t you? You were there.” “No, I didn’t—no... well, maybe I did, but it didn’t feel like it.” “Why should you expect it to? It was something totally new to your experience.”
I have my personal theory on this, but this is neither the time nor the place for it. As about the faults of the story, some of them gave me the nails-on-a-chalkboard nausea.
1) There is a manifest chauvinistic feel in the narrative: a woman's "right attitude" is serving food to her man on her knees... No further comment. ☹ 2) Probably even worse than the misogyny is the author's opinion that the lack of what he calls "will-to-power" is a negative aspect of society. Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't we all aspire to a world in which no one has power over another human being, not the other way around? ☹☹ 3) Regarding the story itself, the entire plot would not have been possible if Wilson had not shown distinct signs of obtuseness. Some of the situations can be explained by intoxication, but the rest... And he is supposed to be a math student which doesn't bode well for the future of this science. ツ
So blaming the above issues (#1 and #2) on the social norms of a past culture, I will go ahead and highly recommend this story to science-fiction lovers and/or those interested in the theories of the spacetime continuum.(less)
Before I start my review I want to point out that, till this book, I thought that Ms. Bujold can do no wrong, so to speak (just check my other reviews...moreBefore I start my review I want to point out that, till this book, I thought that Ms. Bujold can do no wrong, so to speak (just check my other reviews of her books). I don't just like her writing style: I'm in LOVE with her technique. So this being said, for the last three days I've struggled to read this novel (I'm only 66% through) and, at this point, I'm almost ready to put it away and move to the next one, in hope of something more.
So what went wrong and what went well? (And I'm sorry, but this is going to be longer than my usual reviews.)
1) There is a definite improvement in Ekaterin's character compared to Komarr, probably the only good thing I have to say about this novel other than the beautiful writing. Please don't take me wrong: I take my hat off to Ms. Bujold for attempting a rare deed in the SF and Fantasy genre: to show that mothers are true heroines whom most people take for granted. Unfortunately for that good intention, Ekaterin turned out dry, while the the "chemistry" (or the lack of) between her and Miles made me yawn. A Civil Campaign brings up a more interesting Ekaterin, though from what I read so far, I still cannot call this a romance: yes, we are told over and over how highly Miles thinks of Ekaterin, but there is no magnetism between them and, as a reader, I simply couldn't care less if they end up together or not.
2) If most of the previous books were occasionally funny, yet always built on a foundation of solid characters, solid plot, and heavy "messages" (without tuning the novels into a soapbox), this book is, for lack of a better word, juvenile (and I mean this with no disrespect to anyone who liked it). Granted, witless Ivan is still hilarious, but what happened the rest of the cast? We are supposed to deal with characters between 20 and 30+ years-old, yet with very little exceptions they demonstrate the maturity of a 12 years-old! I'm going to mention only one of Mark's lines - "Last word: I win."
3) Probably even more important than the previous note is the fact that there are serious inconsistencies between the assumptions of this story and the previous books. Do you remember in Komarr when Miles and Uncle Vorthys have no problem whatsoever in sharing every single detail of their governmental secret investigation with clearance-free Aunt Vorthys, with clearance-free Ekaterin, and not only clearance-free, but terrorist-friendly Tien? Or do you remember when Uncle Vorthys tells to clearance-free Ekaterin the story of the breakout from the Cetagandan prisoner of war camp, which if publicly revealed would have been considered an act of war toward Cetaganda? Because if you remember, you must understand why it bothered me to no end that all of the sudden in A Civil Campaign ImpSec can't release the details of the terrorist act from Komarr to the Council of Counts. Let me say this again: civilian Aunt Vorthys is in the need-to-know pool for that investigation (along with civilian Cordelia and civilian Ekaterin), but not the government of the country?! How did this problem even pass the beta readers?
4) I mentioned before the fact that, in my reading experience, Ms. Bujold does a spectacular job in not turning her books in a soapbox. Tolerance, responsibility, equality of the sexes, honor, and so on are always promoted, most often discretely if not downright surreptitiously. Regrettably A Civil Campaign deviates from that norm by delivering repeatedly explicit lectures on one topic only: promoting women's emancipation is always a great purpose, but here this is somehow distorted into equating it with the sexual exploration. Not that I have anything against sexual discovery; but shouldn't one's personal emancipation (and I talk about both men and women) be more about about education and discovering one's identity and limits than just sex?
5) Last Cordelia develops a serious case of parental favoritism (and questionable judgement), which in fact started in Mirror Dance: Mark can do no evil, while Miles always misbehaves (even when, in my opinion, he doesn't). Do you remember her little speech from Mirror Dance down these lines: my dear Mark, don't worry that because of you, your brother was killed - after all nobody asked him to take that suicide mission to save your sorry butt... (of course I would have killed him if he didn't save you). Well, in A Civil Campaign it gets worse! Cordelia tells Miles that it was wrong to offer the woman he loved her heart's desire (to design and create a native garden) because he did it to trap her. I would be the first one to say that it was wrong to do so if he found her her work mediocre or if he didn't care about it at all. But in Komarr he calls her work "lovely," a "serenity,""beautiful," and he declares that she has an "artist's eye" for designing gardens. So why, oh why would it be wrong to ask her to create for him something that he obviously thinks the world of? (And no, he doesn't know her well enough to ask her to work for free for him! That would be utterly disrespectful.)
You see, I consider myself a moderate feminist, although probably the scholastic term for my beliefs is equality feminism or liberal feminism (the kind that promotes equality between men and women in all domains). This being said, not only that I don't find anything insulting with Miles's "strategy," I actually think it's what I would have done if I were in his shoes. Yet, here comes mother Cordelia, who slaps him for stealing Ekaterin's victory from her. How can that be, when in the previous book he thought that she is entitled to that victory?
I know that this review is three paragraphs too long, but this novel fell so short of my (granted, very high) expectations. :((less)
Unfortunately I had to return this book to the library before finishing it and when I tried to check it out again it was missing. Therefore, my review...moreUnfortunately I had to return this book to the library before finishing it and when I tried to check it out again it was missing. Therefore, my review will regard only the first three chapters which I completed.
The first chapter is a rather philosophical view of science vs. arts. I found it interesting, puzzling at times, and far from your average high school manual (not that I'm in high school anymore, but at first I thought that A Preface to Literary Analysis was geared toward these readers). It wasn't an easy literary article: I fond myself going through a couple of pages, then putting it aside for a few days in order to ponder about the authors' opinions.
The next two chapters are exactly what the title suggests: an introduction to belletristic genres. They were a much quicker read and accessible to a larger mass of readers, if not a bit more basic that I was looking for.
I'm not sure why this book never went in reprint because from what I read so far, it is an arresting literary exercise.(less)
6/11/11 I am in fact reading an omnibus edition, but since the books were written so far apart, I thought that I would record/review them separately....more6/11/11 I am in fact reading an omnibus edition, but since the books were written so far apart, I thought that I would record/review them separately.
My first impression is really good. The writing has been very nice so far and the story catching. -----
6/12/11 This is a very good book, there is no doubt about it. As most people said, there is one word to characterize it: creative. P.C. Hodgell has a deluge of original ideas. In fact she has so many that the strongest point of this novel is also its weakest one. We are offered a surfeit of information in such a short interval that it leaves the reader (or at least it left me) breathless, wondering what exactly did just happen.
This is excellent information, that one doesn't want to miss, but because it flows so fast, the reader hardly has time to assimilate it and think of what it might mean in the big picture. It is truly a pity because I believe, if the author didn't move that quick from one idea to another, it would have been a great book.
The most undesirable side effect to this overabundance of facts is that it takes a (very long) while to unearth the synopsis and to segregate the main details of the story from the secondary details. For a book of 268 pages, to figure out only around page 190 what fuels Jame's actions is a bit excessive. It's not that we are not given that information soon after she arrives in Tai-tastigon! No, we are told about it... along with twenty other reasons she finds the city interesting.
So let me share this bit of information with you and save you some rummaging. Jame is a 17-year-old Kencyr girl suffering from partial amnesia: she can remember her childhood but nothing about the recent years. Her arrival to Tai-tastigon (a holy city, that houses the temples of current and forgotten/"dead" gods) triggers her search about the true nature of the gods. Kencyrs were monotheists, but here, faced with almost palpable proof of hundreds of other gods, she starts setting up experiments that would reveal whether the other gods exist or they were simply created by the people's belief in them.
Yes, she actually sets up experiments trying to "force" the gods to produce miracles that would confirm them as real... A god stalker! As I said, this is one of the most original ideas I read in a book (even if I have encountered it in real-life before).
I do recommend this novel to fiction-lovers, in spite of its occasional lack of focus.(less)