After the collapse of civilization, a social scientist attempts to work his way across North America to his brother's2.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
After the collapse of civilization, a social scientist attempts to work his way across North America to his brother's ranch with a wolf as his companion.
I know Gordon Dickson's work largely from his excellent Dorsai books, and the (less-effective) rest of the Childe Cycle books. I've tried out a few of his other works (e.g., Time Storm, The Dragon and the George), but been less impressed. I'm sorry to say that Wolf and Iron fits in that latter category.
The prose is smooth, the characters engaging. Dickson has obviously done his research, as attested to in a foreword by the wolf expert he consulted. Unfortunately, it doesn't come across well. The novel was written well before Wikipedia existed, but Wolf and Iron feels like nothing so much as a thorough regurgitation of Wikipedia pages. Protagonist Jeebee Walther is chock full of clever ideas and practical tips that he picked up and remembered through thorough reading, and for every situation he encounters, he remembers one easily and accurately.
Part of the book's problem is that there's never really much tension. Jeebee starts off well-stocked with gadgets, and rapidly loses almost all. In fact, he's so certain to lose them that Dickson almost forgets to tell us. For example, he starts with a high-tech water filter - surely a crucial item that he would rely on daily. Yet at one point, Jeebee, in need of water, suddenly remembers that he lost this vital item some time back. Dickson also loses track of the story in other ways, inadvertently suggesting some incredible coincidences that are probably just editorial errors.
Jeebee's carelessness doesn't matter, because we always know that this bookish city boy will overcome any obstacle. This despite the fact that he is evidently less prepared for survival than every other person he encounters. The stock ultra-competent young woman he meets loves him despite his at best anachronistic “hold her close until she stops fighting love” approach to courtship. Dickson throws in some hand-waving to create some relationship-building time, but it isn't really credible.
The problem is that Dickson becomes so enamored of the practicalities of survival that it becomes the core of the story, and he throws in ever trick he can think of. The book is essentially a rewrite of Robinson Crusoe in Montana, complete with makeshift fortress and source of bounty - except that in Jeebee's case, that's not a ship, but a nearby ranch, and Friday is a wolf. The ranch is where the book loses its storyline most thoroughly. Rather than move into the handy abandoned ranch, Jeebee spends chapters dragging material to a more rustic cave, and doesn't even do it efficiently. While it's meant as a temporary shelter for one winter, he immediately plans to establish a smithy. While he's nominally trying to stay silent and inconspicuous to the neighbours who are certain to come, whenever he's not dragging material back and forth, he's out shooting cattle. Even the man-wolf relationship, otherwise the saving grace of the book, is secondary to description of day-to-day chores (though Dickson is much more shy of body parts). Much of the space it does take is either Jeebee worrying about what Wolf's actions mean – until Wolf isn't quite as useful anymore – or protecting his belonging's from Wolf's apparently insane curiosity. For example, he sleeps on top of a metal ladder, because otherwise, Wolf would apparently eat it for dinner.
The book is mildly interesting because it is well-researched, but there's not much here that Daniel Defoe didn't already cover in a different setting..
* A note on the Start Science Fiction e-book edition – it's evidently OCR based, with less than perfect proofreading. There are a fair number of typos, and one spot in which an editorial note has been left [bracketed] in the middle of the text to clarify one obvious and easily fixed original typo. It's less than impressive for a book that's not that old. ...more
An American comes to visit a prominent British author just as World War I breaks out. An examination of war, politics,3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
An American comes to visit a prominent British author just as World War I breaks out. An examination of war, politics, and philosophy.
This story is essentially the history of the opening and of the realisation of the Great War as it happened to one small group of people in Essex, and more particularly as it happened to one human brain. It came at first to all these people in a spectacular manner, as a thing happening dramatically and internationally, as a show, as something in the newspapers, something in the character of an historical epoch rather than a personal experience; only by slow degrees did it and its consequences invade the common texture of English life. If this story could be represented by sketches or pictures the central figure would be Mr. Britling, now sitting at his desk by day or by night and writing first at his tract "And Now War Ends" and then at other things, now walking about his garden or in Claverings park or going to and fro in London, in his club reading the ticker or in his hall reading the newspaper, with ideas and impressions continually clustering, expanding, developing more and more abundantly in his mind, arranging themselves, reacting upon one another, building themselves into generalisations and conclusions....
That's Mr. Britling Sees It Through in H.G. Wells' own nutshell. It's a muddled, slow moving, and eventually deep and moving examination of war. While the American, Mr. Direck, starts the book off, he vanishes for large portions of the book, and is transparently a prop to provide both a small sub-story and a source of alternate views. Wells' larger interest is in how to understand war, in the context of World War I. His meandering route leads through suburbs, the classic Briton ("The British mind has never really tolerated electricity; at least, not that sort of electricity that runs through wires. Too slippery and glib for it."), the British political class ("But all governments and rulers and ruling classes when you look at them closely are incredible...."), pragmatic insularity ("The world is round—like an orange. The thing is told us—like any old scandal—at school. For all practical purposes we forget it. Practically we all live in a world as flat as a pancake. Where time never ends and nothing changes. Who really believes in any world outside the circle of the horizon?"), pathos ("Why are children ever crushed?"), self-control ("It's the tenth day, it's the odd seductive moment, it's the instant of confident pride—and there is your sanguine temperament in the ditch."), and, most of all, religion (' "Life," said Cecily, "has either got to be religious or else it goes to pieces.... Perhaps anyhow it goes to pieces...." ').
It's this last point that's really at the heart of the book. What's presented as a novel is manifestly a genuine effort to work through arguments for and against war, and to give some meaning to the pain it causes. In Wells' case, the answer is religion.
"Religion is the first thing and the last thing, and until a man has found God and been found by God, he begins at no beginning, he works to no end. He may have his friendships, his partial loyalties, his scraps of honour. But all these things fall into place and life falls into place only with God. Only with God. God, who fights through men against Blind Force and Night and Non-Existence; who is the end, who is the meaning. He is the only King.... Of course I must write about Him. I must tell all my world of Him. And before the coming of the true King, the inevitable King, the King who is present whenever just men foregather, this blood-stained rubbish of the ancient world, these puny kings and tawdry emperors, these wily politicians and artful lawyers, these men who claim and grab and trick and compel, these war makers and oppressors, will presently shrivel and pass—like paper thrust into a flame....".
It's a recurring theme, but handled with a relatively light touch. There's a portion at the end where a "happy Atheist" sees the light of an imperfect god with remarkable swiftness. ("She had been a happy Atheist. She had played in the sunshine, a natural creature with the completest confidence in the essential goodness of the world in which she found herself.") Otherwise, though, the book isn't particularly preachy - it's Wells finding or inventing comfort where he can.
Wells clearly had an eye to the future - "That will help posterity to the proper values of things in 1914." - and it is in fact interesting to read the book 100 years after it was published. Some things haven't changed much. ("She said that she was a Socialist, and there was still in Mr. Direck's composition a streak of the old-fashioned American prejudice against the word. He associated Socialists with Anarchists and deported aliens.")
The book takes a complex position on war - at one point patriotic and supportive, at another repulsed and wounded. While placing the blame for World War I squarely on the German Kaiser, Wells freely admits that British causes have been little better. ("It was small consolation for Mr. Britling to reflect that English homes and women and children were, after all, undergoing only the same kind of experience that our ships have inflicted scores of times in the past upon innocent people in the villages of Africa and Polynesia...") In many ways, the book describes both the foundering of idealism. (' "When it began I did not believe that this war could be like other wars," he said. "I did not dream it. I thought that we had grown wiser at last. It seemed to me like the dawn of a great clearing up. I thought the common sense of mankind would break out like a flame, an indignant flame, and consume all this obsolete foolery of empires and banners and militarism directly it made its attack upon human happiness. A score of things that I see now were preposterous, I thought must happen—naturally.') In the final reckoning, he turns against war as an instrument. ("It is plain to me, surely it is plain to you and all the world, that war is now a mere putting of the torch to explosives that flare out to universal ruin. There is nothing for one sane man to write to another about in these days but the salvation of mankind from war.") But Wells doesn't give up on idealism - he's hopeful. ("His purpose in the book he was beginning to write was to reason out the possible methods of government that would give a stabler, saner control to the world. He believed still in democracy, but he was realising more and more that democracy had yet to discover its method. It had to take hold of the consciences of men, it had to equip itself with still unformed organisations. Endless years of patient thinking, of experimenting, of discussion lay before mankind ere this great idea could become reality, and right, the proven right thing, could rule the earth.")
It's not an entirely dark book. In fact, much of it is modestly light-hearted. ("...in his zeal to tell it he did not at once discover that though Mr. Britling knew French quite well he did not know it very rapidly.") But while it's clothed as a novel, the book is primarily a treatise - one of the many pamphlets that Mr. Britling sits down to write but never finishes. It's slow, sometimes dull and heavy-handed, but it's enlivened with humor (Mr. Britling's belief that he can somehow be helpful to the war effort, so long as the role includes a brassard.). Stick with it long enough, and Britling's musings on the war take on a depth that build on the slower material early on.
Overall, not a great novel, but a very interesting and revealing look at how one thoughtful Briton saw the arrival and development of World War I, and war in general. ...more
Jason din Alt is a gambler with a special touch. When Kerk, ambassador from Pyrrus, engages din Alt to multiply a smal3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Jason din Alt is a gambler with a special touch. When Kerk, ambassador from Pyrrus, engages din Alt to multiply a small stake, things get complicated, and the pair flee to Pyrrus, which offers problems of its own.
It took me a long time to get to Deathworld, way back when. A friend of mine promoted the books, but he was partial to military SF (he was right about Dorsai) and Gor (I've never wanted to check). When I finally did get around to Harry Harrison, I was pleasantly surprised. The Deathworld wrist holster in particular stuck in my mind, for some reason.
On this return trip, I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that it holds up. Sure, it's a very 'manly' book, but it's pretty good regardless. Harrison sets up an interesting situation, and he doesn't opt for the easy answers. There's admittedly a lack of subtlety to it, and it gets pretty heavy-handed at the end, but it's still worthy adventure SF when you want some light reading. ...more
Brothers, twins in body and spirit, spend much of their lives together on a farm at the Welsh-English border.
I've not read Bruce Chatwin before, but have heard of him mainly as a travel writer. Certainly, in On the Black Hill, his prose here is simple and unembroidered. However, he demonstrates that it is also possible to be too plain. The events of the book, tangled and of great potential interest, pass by like notes in an almanac. On this day, this happened; on the next, that happened. While the book follows the lives of the two brothers in great detail, it never roused my interest in either of them. While a few other colorful characters come in and out, others are summarily dealt with in a few paragraphs.
The novel has a fairly clumsy start - after a chapter on the twins late life, the book suddenly and without warning drops back to a time before their birth, to give the history of the farm itself. In fact, while seeming to be about the men, the book could just as easily be seen as bout the farmhouse itself - a view probably better fitting its cool, dry voice.
If the book engendered any real feeling in me, it was one of frustration - the twins are curiously passionless, despite a family and neighbours steeped in passion. They drift, and seldom do much. In part, Chatwin's intent is to explain just that, but the story comes across less as a novel than as an almost clinical look at what one might take for a true story. Chatwin is known as a travel writer, and perhaps that was his true calling. The descriptions in the book are colorful and interesting. I wish the characters had been as well. ...more
Calhoun represents the Med Service - one of the few universal ties in a far-flung human culture. But when he comes to3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Calhoun represents the Med Service - one of the few universal ties in a far-flung human culture. But when he comes to Maris III on a routine inspection, he finds far more than he expected - a murderous reception and mysterious plague. But a Med Service man has responsibilities, and nothing will stand in his way.
I've enjoyed Murray Leinster's short stories, and one thin, light novel. I was surprised to find I enjoyed this story so much. It's a pulp adventure, but it's reasonably well thought out. Calhoun is an ultra-competent hero, but he's unusual in bringing to bear more brain and less brawn than your usual pulp hero, and in the fact that, at heart, he's a determined bureaucrat, not wanna-be soldier.
The Mutant Weapon was originally serialized in Analog, and it shows. There are points of substantial repetition, but it's not hard to skim by. There's also a certain element of 'magic' - Leinster comes up some palatable science, but he also relies pretty heavily on some invented compounds with a striking effectiveness. The plot is not complex, and there's really not much question that Calhoun will prevail, but it's still fun to read.
Ultimately, an unusual, interesting approach to SF adventure. I look forward to the rest of the series. ...more
The 'death stars' that cause mass extinctions have come again, and gone, and Earth is slowly waking up from its long s3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
The 'death stars' that cause mass extinctions have come again, and gone, and Earth is slowly waking up from its long sleep. In one isolated shelter, a band of tradition-bound survivors of the 700 millennia long ice age is realizing that the time may have come to leave their cocoon. Indeed, they may have to.
I've dipped into Robert Silverberg's work from time to time. In fact, I have stacks of his books. They're well written, but somehow, with the exception of Lord Valentine's Castle, they've never really drawn me back. Still, there's no denying his writing skill, and as Silverberg's back catalogs come out as e-books, I've bought several more.
At Winter's End epitomizes the Silverberg experience for me. The writing is in many ways top notch. The concept is grand, the scale vast. He effortlessly introduces ancient, crumbling civilizations on a tremendous scale, while keeping the story at a very human level. It's rare to see all this done so well.
Unfortunately, what he fails at is characterization. While he spreads the burden among a well-defined cast, most of the actors are stock characters without much attempt at customization. While their environment is fascinating, their motivations and actions tend toward the predictable. While Silverberg has a little fun rearranging modes of intimacy, this little band, eons in the future, has essentially the same secretes and jealousies that we all have. There's a message in that, and perhaps an intentional one, but it nonetheless robs the story of the passion it could have had. All through this book, I wished Silverberg had spent on characters just a little of the care he used for setting. That's often my feeling about his books, so perhaps by now I should just know what to expect. The thing is, the rest of the book is just so good that this (fairly major) flaw is frustrating.
Despite the obstacles of a cast with limited capacity, the book ends well - well enough that, frankly, I don't expect to go on to the sequel. The setting was the interesting part, and I have only a tepid interest in the tribulations of the actors themselves.
All in all, excellent writing, but lackadaisical characterization that keeps the book from being the success it might have been.
PS In the Open Road Media edition, the true book is 375 pages long, followed by over hundred pages of excerpt from the sequel. ...more
A young boy, unhappy living with his aunt, investigates a long-haul hovership, only to find himself adrift in the deep o3 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
A young boy, unhappy living with his aunt, investigates a long-haul hovership, only to find himself adrift in the deep ocean. When dolphins rescue him, his life changes.
I give Arthur C. Clarke credit for introducing me, many decades back, to SF characters who were truly three-dimensional. He brings that same sympathy to bear in Dolphin Island. Unfortunately, the rest of the story doesn't hold up as well, even for a young adult story.
While Clarke clearly has a strong affinity for dolphins (who doesn't?), it's curiously divided. He acknowledges that dolphins are sentient and intelligent, and that orcas are their close cousins. Yet he sees little wrong with capturing an orca, winning its trust, and sticking control electrodes in its brain. Our hero feels a momentary uncertainty, and that's about it for morality.
The strength of the book is in its loving description of the Great Barrier Reef and its ecology. While some aspects will give a modern reader pause (hey, a clutch of turtle eggs - let's dig them up and eat them!), Clarke is generally spellbound by the free-diving possibilities and the beauty of the ecology, and does a very nice job of presenting them. In fact, one could almost say that the story is more an excuse for writing about the Reef than vice versa.
The story itself is functional YA - nothing extraordinary. Clarke manages his usual success of making the key characters credible and reasonably well-rounded, but only the boys in the forefront really develop. The story simply doesn't match the mastery of Clarke's more substantial efforts.
All in all, a decent but slight Clarke story that is generally and deservedly overlooked. ...more
Ethnology professor Norman Saylor discovers that his wife has been putting his study of folk-magic to practical use. Whe4 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Ethnology professor Norman Saylor discovers that his wife has been putting his study of folk-magic to practical use. When he convinces her to stop, things go wrong, and he begins to wonder whether she might have been right to believe in magic after all.
I imagine most people first encounter Fritz Leiber from his Lankhmar series, but many know that he wrote a host of other good books, including Conjure Wife, his first novel. While in key ways a creature of its time in terms of societal attitudes, it's nonetheless quite good.
It's true that the premise, that women practice witchcraft to manipulate others, draws on a tired and harmful stereotype. Keep in mind that it was written in 1943, however, and it's clear that Leiber is aiming to have a bit of satirical fun. Both Norman and his wife Tansy are well-rounded creatures. While somewhat stuck in the gender roles of their time, both are active and intelligent. Allowing for a little room for exaggeration and satire, the description of small-college life is both realistic and funny.
The writing is good throughout. The style is simple but smooth, and Leiber drops in little nuggets like this one: “That most pleasant of all sensations – the tug of work a man likes to do and is able to do well, yet that needn't be done immediately.”
What makes the story works so well, in addition to smooth writing and engaging characters, is Leiber's careful management of Norman's attitude. He's forced to weigh whether magic really exists, or the events of the story are complex and unconscious psychological constructs. Reason pushes him one way, while the need to save his beloved wife pushes in an another.
All in all, a clever, and very well written, if slightly dated, fantasy novel. ...more
A man on his way to meet his lover, a man who believes himself to be a Warrior exiled to a mundane world, and two adve2.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
A man on his way to meet his lover, a man who believes himself to be a Warrior exiled to a mundane world, and two adversaries playing tabletop games in a surreal castle - all tied together in a complex literary novel.
I've read most of Iain Banks' SFF novels - complex, sophisticated, and intriguing. I previously read his literary novel A Song of Stone, and liked but wasn't overwhelmed by it. Still, his contemporary fiction was on sale, so I bought a number of books to explore. Walking on Glass is the first I've delved into.
The overall impression from Walking on Glass is that it's the product of a very talented writer who hasn't mastered the art of actual storytelling. The characters are broadly interesting (if dull in detail), and the settings are credible. For a long time, that's all there is, as Banks drags us slowly (and with increasing reluctance) along on a voyage with no clear ending. The surrealist/fantastic castle sequences are the book's saving grace - without them, we'd have only the non-engaging life of a paranoid and a dull, obvious infatuation told in flashbacks. The prose and the castle are the only thing that keeps us going.
As Banks takes the story further, he comes up with surprising flashes of ironic humor - all concentrated in the castle. If there had been more, or better distributed, the book would have been better for it. The outcome and manner of the infatuation are evident from nearly the start. The paranoid character is too obviously deluded for us to pick on Banks' would-be hints that maybe there's more to him.
The book moves along slowly but relentlessly, moving toward what we hope will be a clever, philosophical conclusion that ties all the viewpoints together. Everything points to that end. Unfortunately, in the closing pages, Banks throws most of that away to focus on an ending we could all see coming, but in which he inserts a jarring and tawdry twist ending that brings nothing to the story, and drops most of our goodwill in the gutter. It's sad. I wish I could say that he's instead wrapped the ending in layers of clever subtlety that I didn't understand. Unfortunately, he hasn't.
What we end up with is a dull and self-indulgent big-idea story the author didn't know how to finish. I can't recommend it, except as a sign of the prose skill Banks was later able to pair with full stories. ...more
The last member of an ancient race is left on a young planet to accomplish their goal of stimulating life to achieve i2.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
The last member of an ancient race is left on a young planet to accomplish their goal of stimulating life to achieve its best. But as Earth develops, things don't go according to plan.
While this starts as moderately interesting light adventure, it doesn't follow through terribly well. It's fast moving, but thin, and with many flaws.
First off, the science if pretty questionable throughout, and the crucial solution is essentially magic. Kuttner makes little effort to apply logic. A warrior from Earth's early history is able to figure out how to direct a spaceship on an automated intra-system course - all with no more than natural smarts and a heap of alien memories. In general, Kuttner's smart humans are able to pick up modern science and technology without really batting an eye.
The characters are about as two-dimensional as they come. Men are strong, women are supportive, and we don't learn much more about them than that. There's one Oriental in the group, and somehow that makes it clear that he, at least, is not an alien (because I suppose aliens are Caucasian). As is traditional in adventure novels, a man falls in love with a woman essentially at first sight, and despite her fairly substantial character flaws. To be fair, the lead character does deepen as we proceed, and there's a subsidiary character who would be complex if he weren't so peripheral.
Light reading, and a modest novel of its time, but there's no real reason to revisit it now....more
Shot through the heart, his fighter plane falling to certain death, a man suddenly finds himself on the distant world of3 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Shot through the heart, his fighter plane falling to certain death, a man suddenly finds himself on the distant world of Poloda - 500,000 light years away. With not one word of the language, in a world at war, he nonetheless finds himself a place among the brave citizens of Unis.
It's a bit of a surprise to find Edgar Rice Burroughs conversant with calculation of light years. There's no good reason he shouldn't be, but I've always thought of him as the fantasy end of science fiction, or even science fantasy. The issue isn't too distracting, however, since the rest of the story is ERB pulp through and through, with a strong tinge of WWII.
Written toward the end of Burroughs' life, and doubtless intended as the start of another series, the book consists of two novellas meant for serialization, and with fairly abrupt endings. The plot is thin, and draws on one of his favorite themes - a capable Earth man suddenly transplanted to strange locales, where thinly-clad women admire his genius.
In this case, the country of Unis (representing Good) is at total war with Kapar (which is greedy, rapacious, violent, and fearful). In case you should miss it, Burroughs takes care to point out similarities with Nazi Germany (the book was written in 1940, and presumes war with Germany into 1989). While initially I hoped for a little subtlety and surprise, the Kapars are just as evil as you might expect. I presume it was cathartic to write, and perhaps cathartic for Americans to read, but the story lacks anything approaching subtlety.
Burroughs stretches the capable hero point more than a bit - an ace pilot whose reaction to death is largely 'oh, well', his protagonist is also a designer of experimental engines, and is quite capable of clearly establishing his location as half a million light years from Earth, based on his intimate knowledge of the characteristics of distant galaxies. Very John Carter, in other words.
All that said, the book is a fairly fun read. There's a pretty strong sexist tone throughout (strong women are the ones that don't cry for their fallen men), and more than a hint that blood breeds true, but that's par for the course with Burroughs. If you can set that aside, it's fast-moving and reasonably rousing. Set aside your desire for black and white to have tinges of grey, and it's clear-cut action/adventure.
Burroughs sets each of the two sections off with an unconvincing explanation of ghostly hands typing the story for him. It allows him to start the second with a quick summary of the first, but is otherwise just a distraction.
I can't say that Burroughs became a substantially better writer between Barsoom and Poloda, but certainly the action is clearer. The story has its drawbacks (sexism, lack of realism, blunt wartime references, chopped ending), but it's lively and unexpectedly funny in places, and if you enjoy Burroughs' other work, there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy this as well. ...more
The son of a wealthy factor, Rhennthyl resists going into the family business, and instead finds an apprenticeship with4 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
The son of a wealthy factor, Rhennthyl resists going into the family business, and instead finds an apprenticeship with a portrait artists. A terrible accident ruins his hopes of life as an artist, and he must decide what to do with limited prospects, and two talents - art, and magic.
I've found L. E. Modesitt to be inconsistent between series, and relentlessly consistent within series. Said, another way, I like some of his series (Recluce) all the way, and don't care much for others. Happily, the Imager Portfolio looks to be one of the good ones, and I now wish I'd bought all the books back when they were on sale.
The world of Terahnar is a bit of a departure for Modesitt. It has a determinedly Terran jumble of aspects, built largely on Romance-language cognates and names (e.g., a weekend day of 'Samedi'). Given Modesitt's usual rigor, I assume that somewhere down the road, these will coalesce into some kind of logic - perhaps an Amberian source world or similar. If not, I'm at a loss to understand it. In any case, the names do make it easy to follow the story - the country of Ferrium, for example, is an industrial, iron-based culture.
Character-wise, Modesitt produces his usual - a contemplative, capable protagonist who works hard and always does the logical thing, especially if that involves working hard (and being surprised that others think it's unusual). Rhennthyl is strong, smart, attractive and humble. He suffers the world's injustices without complaint, and overcomes them through sheer indomitability and determination. It's a recipe that works remarkably well. While the emotional arc of the story is fairly predictable, and the character seems very, very familiar, he's still interesting to follow.
Rhennthyl is, of course, a man of many talents, one of which is magic, or 'imaging'. Modesitt likes his magic systems, but he focuses on character studies, not a Brandon Sanderson application of detail. So, imaging is a bit vague, and our hero, logical as he is, doesn't explore it very deeply. Instead, he explores its consequences in society and in personal interaction. Mostly, that works, but I did find myself wishing that Modesitt had applied a little more rigor. Even if we accept imaging's fuzzy outline, Rhennthyl (as with other Modesitt heroes), has a fair number of 'feelings' (e.g., that someone is watching him) that don't seem to fit the magic system at all. That became a little wearing, in part because it blurred the boundaries between worlds - building the feeling that all Modesitt's worlds have similarities.
One such similarity is the traditional strong man, oppressed woman world. I've noted many times before how tiresome I find this, unless you're using it to make a point. In this first book, Modesitt could have told his core story just as easily in a world of equality, and I wish he had.
I'm not much of a food and clothing guy, but if you are, there's some talk of it here. Modesitt doesn't go overboard, and it's easy to skip, but there's seldom an outfit he doesn't describe in general terms and colors, especially regarding women. Dinner dishes are similarly named, but then set aside. Philosophy is regularly dipped into, though in a shallow enough way that if it's not your thing (and it's usually not mine), you can ignore it and let Rhennthyl worry about it until it comes up again. Morals the same, and if you're familiar with Modesitt, you'll be unsurprised that everything comes in shades of gray.
This first book is somewhat dissatisfying in that it is so clearly the first book in a series. It doesn't end so much as stop - not really in a cliffhanger, but it's clear we've only gotten the first part of a much longer story. The good news is that this introduction is enticing enough to go get the rest.
All in all, a strong fantasy with a very familiar tone, and recommended for fans of Recluce....more
Susannah's brother, Niall, got a painted silver horse for his birthday. His mother told him that if he didn't name it,3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Susannah's brother, Niall, got a painted silver horse for his birthday. His mother told him that if he didn't name it, it would go to the Land of Runaway Toys. That night, they all find themselves in the Land, and Susannah must rescue Niall before dawn.
While she's not exactly unknown, I consider Elizabeth A. Lynn to be a sadly under-appreciated author. I admit that it's largely on the basis of her dark novel, The Sardonyx Net, but her other books are also strong. When Open Road Media brought out her back catalog as e-books, I bought them up, including this one, which was new to me.
Rather to my surprise, The Silver Horse is not hard-edged SF or dark fantasy, but a short-ish children's story, and a pleasant one. The elements are familiar (transport to a magic world, siblings, rescue, magic, evil sorceress), but Lynn puts them together in a new and satisfying mix. Susannah, the protagonist, is a credible and interesting young teen, and generally a pleasure to follow.
A fun, easy, engaging book for young readers. ...more
Emperor Mapidere united the various countries of Dara, but his grandiose ways have sewn the seeds of rebellion. The elem3 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Emperor Mapidere united the various countries of Dara, but his grandiose ways have sewn the seeds of rebellion. The elements for it all fall in place through chicanery and happenstance, but once the revolution has started, the tides change with every new occurrence, and power shifts unpredictably.
I'm a big admirer of Ken Liu. His short fiction is extraordinary, and he's done wonders to bring Chinese speculative fiction to an English-speaking audience. When I saw that he'd written a novel, I snapped it up.
Unfortunately, Liu's considerable skills with short fiction haven't translated very well to the longer format. The Grace of Kings is long, slow, meandering, and often arbitrary. Liu draws on a large cast of characters, and, combined with his low-key style, the result is that we don't feel particularly close to any of them. Kuni Garu, a clever, trickster-type, is fun and interesting, but not particularly sympathetic, and becomes inconsistent toward the end. Mata Zynda, Kuni's athletic, military near-opposite, accomplishes the unusual feat of starting as a well-formed character, and becoming more and more shallow toward the end. The book reads more as a pseudo-historical text than as epic fantasy.
Liu's world is depressingly gender traditional, with dominant men, repressed women, etc. He uses this to build some changes toward the end, but it feels consciously tacked on, rather than an organic story of progress and development. This is also a world of quarreling, interfering gods, and they play the usual role, though Liu occasionally relies on them for ex machina solutions. Hero isolated against overwhelming odds? No problem; a god may come along and swallow them all up. Some of the non-deist solutions (e.g. how to put out a gate fire) are equally non-credible and disappointing. Others, including character motivations, are simplistic.
The prose is generally good, though not as smooth as I would expect from Liu. However, the beginning is very dense, with lots of data in what are effectively infodumps. The overall structure of the story also doesn't hold together as well as it should. While politics and governance are key elements of the concept, much of the result is low on realism, with political systems more broad strokes than credible constructs. Spies who wear uniforms are not spies, but enforcers. Some of the terminology is odd and feels out of place - "commander-in-chief", for example, is accurate, but has a modern tone to it; "mano a mano" doesn't fit a pseudo-Oriental fantasy at all, and gains nothing on "hand to hand". One gets the feeling that Liu just doesn't have that much experience with the epic fantasy sub-genre, and doesn't know how to handle some of the issues that come up.
What does work is a happy departure from the standard medieval European base to a less usual Oriental base. Liu pulls it off nicely, with just enough neologisms mixed with more familiar features. (Though at one, point, I began to wish for something not decorated with shark's teeth.) It's an interesting, intriguing world with a steam-punky feel to it. I just wish there were a better story to go with it. I lost interest in this one about 200 pages (40%) in.
All that said, it's not a bad book. With its unusual world, broad scope, and good prose, it's better than some. However, it is a very disappointing book from a very talented writer. Happily, it wraps up thoroughly enough that it's possible to drop the series here. ...more
Wallie Smith, reincarnated as Shonsu of the Seventh Sword, is now the deputy head of a widespread Tryst of peace. When h3 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Wallie Smith, reincarnated as Shonsu of the Seventh Sword, is now the deputy head of a widespread Tryst of peace. When his principal Nnanji is attacked and badly injured, the entire Tryst risks coming apart unless Wallie can find a clever solution.
The Seventh Sword was Dave Duncan's first fantasy trilogy, and not a particularly good one. With The Death of Nnanji, he revisits the world with a great deal more authorial experience. Unfortunately, little of it shows.
I'm a fan of Dave Duncan, but the original Seventh Sword trilogy was badly flawed and unsatisfying. I had hopes that this fourth, additional volume would see Duncan bringing his wealth of experience to bear in a way that would resurrect the series. In practice, the book went the other way - drowning Duncan's experience in all the flaws of the original trilogy.
As always, the story is light and quick to read. Wallie/Shonsu tries to bring his engineering experience to bear on World problems, but fails to take the culture fully into account. The result is disappointing and formulaic - setback, solution, setback, solution, with no great effort at credibility. To complicate matters, by this last book I've given up on understanding the geography of the World and its river, never well explained. Though travel is important to the plot, I just ignored the parts where Wallie talks about how you can get from here to there, but not there to here. None of it really made sense.
This was a book that didn't need to be written. Duncan resurrects some backstory, and the plot ties in reasonably well, but there's really not much new presented here. There's some nice wrap-up that the original trilogy was missing, but it wasn't really vital to have.
Substantively, the book is a modest continuation of the story, but it feels a bit tacked on. Duncan appears to lose track of some of his own world's rules (a king ordering a swordsman reeve to do something), and the treatment of women hasn't improved much (though this is a pretty male-focused story).
I had hoped for more - particularly, more evidence of Duncan's skill and maturity as a writer, but it doesn't show up. If you liked the original trilogy, you'll like this. For anyone else, there's no strong reason to buy the book.
_ As so often, this is one of Open Road's apparently un-proofread books - there are frequent typos. ...more
A dead philosopher wins a battle with a live one, but their feud continues after both have long been dust. The gap bet3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
A dead philosopher wins a battle with a live one, but their feud continues after both have long been dust. The gap between this world and Fairyland re-opens after a long closure. Compelled by an ancient promise and their own cupidity, Zumurrud the djinn and his cohort sew fear and chaos in the human world. Only the descendants of one of the philosophers and his djinnia wife can save our world.
I haven't read very much of Salman Rushdie's work - Midnight's Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I don't recall either particularly well. I came to this book then, uncertain what to expect. I didn't expect, certainly, what Rushdie hints at - that he's an aficionado of Golden Age SF. It doesn't show particularly in the novel; it's just one of the many interesting bits Rushdie drops throughout the book.
If there's one thing that comes clear from this book (let's call it 1,001 Nights for short), it's that Salman Rushdie is erudite. He's an intellectual, one of the intelligentsia, the literati, the highbrow. 1,001 Nights is positively brimming with erudition, with references from Simak to Phytophthora to Veblen, and all sorts of stops in between. Rushdie is a man who's clearly read a lot, thinks a lot, and brings it all into play in his writing. Happily and somewhat surprisingly, all these references don't come across as pretentious or affected. One gets the impression that these are things draws on not to show off, but because he genuinely knows about them.
All this intelligence and knowledge is helped by a consistent sly, dry humor cropping up at odd moments. Rushdie doesn't take himself or his characters too seriously, even when writing about serious matters. And serious matters there certainly are - there are multiple levels of parable and meta-reference in this story, but Rushdie comes out pretty clearly with several. First, religion is more harmful than helpful, and we'll be better off when we give it up, even if that comes with a cost. Second, and related, humans are flawed, but we can and should work for a world driven by reason, tolerance, and knowledge rather than one driven by fear and faith. (And we can't trust scholars too much.)
Sadly, a positive message, dry humor, and undeniable intelligence are also undercut by dense prose, many meandering asides, and a story that, overall, is fairly dull. The writing is intriguing on an intellectual level, and good in small doses. As a story, though, 1,001 Nights is not a success. Despite grand stakes and battles of good and evil, with humanity in the balance, there's no real emotional component to the story. There are too many characters floating around, and most of them distant. Rushdie makes an effort to center the story on Geronimo (Rafael Hieronymus) the gardener, but I never developed any real interest in him. He and the other characters were too evidently set furniture for a clever but bloodless parable.
In all, a dense intellectual exercise that fails as a story. Interesting to read, but not really amusing.
Received free copy of book in exchange for honest review....more
Young Geoffrey, sent to visit his grandmother in the big city of Ankh-Morpork, has a chance encounter with avian excreme4 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Young Geoffrey, sent to visit his grandmother in the big city of Ankh-Morpork, has a chance encounter with avian excrement, and decides to open the world's first poo museum.
Apparently this is something of a meta-book, having been mentioned in the Discworld novel Snuff. The book brims with Terry Pratchett's characteristic humor, forthrightly brought to bear on a basic human need. It's not his funniest book, but it's light, good-natured, and fun. The illustrations are nice, if not as light-hearted as one might hope.
The plot and characterization are pretty simplistic, but that's not really what the book is about. It reads more as an off-the cuff in-joke that's also accessible to outsiders.
The World of Poo is a quick, easy read that's a fitting cap to Pratchett's long Discworld series (though it's been available in the UK for some years). If you liked his other books (and you should), you'll like this. ...more
Humans left the crowded environs of Earth to travel at near-light speed to other galaxies. On arrival billions of extern3 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Humans left the crowded environs of Earth to travel at near-light speed to other galaxies. On arrival billions of external years later, some want to go back, though the journey itself poses problems. Back at Earth, a civilization has developed among gigantic comet-fed trees.
I remember reading Donald Moffitt's The Jupiter Theft, back in the '70s, and his Genesis Quest books in the '80s. I liked the former, and thought the latter were okay. When I saw this latest book, I thought it would be a nice chance to revisit an old author. Unfortunately, my opinion of the writing isn't greatly changed.
Moffitt, who died last year, was one of the dying breed of hard-SF authors, who carefully thought through their concepts and aimed for a reasonable level of credibility. There's no faster-than-light travel here; while time dilation and genetic engineering allow one ship's captain to leave Earth, cross the universe, and come back, the trip takes billions of years. In Sol's Oort cloud, giant trees are based on a concept discussed in the 20th century. The science behind the book is, if not necessarily accurate, at least credible.
Sadly, the story itself is less strong. Moffitt's characters aren't terribly interesting, and in places the plot seems to simply go through the motions - insurrection, political unrest, etc. pass by more as by-the-numbers waypoints in the plot than as interesting elements in themselves. While Moffitt clearly gets a kick out of accurately applying laws of physics, listening to his characters sit around and talk about them is less fun, and not entirely credible. Toward the end, we're treated to large and repetitive infodumps. Moffit is less rigorous about logistics and coincidence, with some key plot points relying on chance. When it comes to inter-system commerce toward the end of the book, he seemingly tosses science out the window.
The story, while apparently first published this year, has a distinctly '70s feel to it. With one exception, the leaders are men; the women do the cooking. While the starship is quite large the cast of active characters is remarkably small - a bit like a TV show where for some reason a few people handle all the tasks. Since the book is published posthumously, there's not much to be done about it - read it as if it were a book from the last century, and you'll enjoy it more.
There's not a lot to the story itself. In separate threads, we learn about the ecosystem of giant trees, and the humans coming back to the solar system. The threads eventually cross, of course. What's surprising is how uninteresting and low-key the meeting is. Once that's wrapped up, Moffitt suddenly throws in some complications that slightly complicate the story, but do nothing to make it more interesting. It all feels very distant.
All in all, a moderately interesting throwback to the hard SF of the '70s. Not a bad read, but not something to go out of your way for. ...more
When the Fool returned unexpectedly and near death, Fitz rushed to save him, leaving his daughter in the care of others.4 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
When the Fool returned unexpectedly and near death, Fitz rushed to save him, leaving his daughter in the care of others. Now, he's paying for that decision.
With Robin Hobb's Rain Wilds Chronicles series, I feared that she had lost her touch. The first book of this new, more adult trilogy, Fool's Assassin, proved me wrong; it was her best book in some years. This second book in the trilogy is just as strong.
Fool's Quest confirms Hobb as one of the field's very best fantasy writers. The writing is smooth, effortless, and moving. The plot is carefully and credibly constructed. We gradually accrete pieces of the answers we've been wondering about over the series' 14 (!) previous books.
It's hard to say that the length of the series is a drawback, since most of the books have been extremely enjoyable. You can certainly read this book without reading all the rest, but you'll definitely get the most out of it if you know all the background. Hobb does a good job of tieing all the pieces together and providing key reminders, but I wish I'd had the time to go back and re-read everything that came before. Maybe I'll try that before the next book, which promises some important answers.
While I loved the book for most of the time I was reading it, a few things brought it lower than I'd originally anticipated.
Bee (Fitz' daughter) seems a bit too adult in her writing, even considering who she is.
Fitz starts to get very 'Recluce' toward the end, by which I mean that he returns over and over to a single character refrain - in this case, his oft-spoken determination to act alone. It's overdone for a character trait that we already know very well. Fitz' moping about it doesn't add that much to the story.
Torture - the book has a glaring central hypocrisy that isn't well addressed. The Fool has been tortured, and that's terrible - he and Fitz need to go out immediately and kill everyone involved. Fitz tortures some other people - well, he needs information, and besides, he's angry. It's the quintessential 'what we do is good; what they do is bad' flaw. Hobb makes a token effort to note that torture doesn't work, but Fitz, for all his introspection, mostly falls back to 'I'm ashamed, but I had to do it.' I wish Hobb had chosen a different route; for me, this does not fall at all in the 'awful necessity' category, and it makes Fitz a lot less likable.
At its best, the book reminds me very favorably of the first Deryni trilogy, before it got too wound up in religion and politics. Overall, an excellent book flawed by a brief and inconsistent treatment of torture. ...more
A collection of speculative stories from Clifford D. Simak.
I've been on a little bit of a Clifford Simak kick lately, triggered by a chance reading of All Flesh is Grass, and I've been happy to revisit or discover more of his work. This collection of warm, friendly stories - the first in a projected dozen - kept me feeling that way.
While I tend to think of Simak in terms of small-town, Earth-bound stories, the short stories here are definite SF of the man meets alien variety. Plus a western. They're all good, and they all show the everyday-man touch Simak was so good at. The stories are:
Installment Plan - a nice story about robot-human cooperation. Not a logic-puzzle Asimov story, not evil robots; just coexistence.
I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air - a clever story about man's pretensions to superiority. Some great points, but the execution of the end is weak.
Small Deer - what really happened to the dinosaurs? A thin story with no great surprises.
Ogre - humans tangle with aliens over music. One of my favorites, with some sophisticated concepts under its pulp-incredible surface.
Gleaners - the manager of a time-travel agency runs out of patience. It's hard to do much that's interesting with time travel. Simak pulls it off by focusing on the people involved, and not worrying too much about science.
Madness from Mars - astronauts bring back a seemingly innocuous Martian creature. Another story where there's real pathos beneath the pulpy plot.
Gunsmoke Interlude - a gunslinger runs into a tough sheriff. I hadn't actually known that Simak wrote westerns. This one is very good, up until a weak ending.
I Am Crying All Inside - robots and humans left behind by emigration. The seeds of a really good story are here, but they don't really come out.
The Call From Beyond - a man looking for solitude finds humans in an unexpected place. A bit long, and the ending could have been stronger, but interesting despite it.
All the Traps of Earth - a robot at the end of his lifecycle looks for purpose. One of the few stories I'd read before, and for good reason. The ending is a bit trite, but as with Installment Plan, Simak does a great job of treating robots as real characters rather than props.
The book is a decent size for quick consumption, though the dozen-volume plan seems ambitious, and I wonder why they didn't choose fewer, bigger books. The stories have short, mildly interesting, but inoffensive forewords that provide a little context, from a long-time Simak associate. What's missing is any explanation of the selection and ordering criteria. I couldn't see any logic to it - not chronological, not thematic (that western). It's a common problem in single-author collections (cf the Roger Zelazny 6 volume set), but an irritant nonetheless.
If you haven't read much Simak, this is a good place to start - a short but solid set of SF stories about people, rather than gimmicks. ...more
Tyen is a student at the Academy, the only place in the Leratian Empire where magic can be properly investigated. Riel3.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews
Tyen is a student at the Academy, the only place in the Leratian Empire where magic can be properly investigated. Rielle is the daughter of a scorned but influential family of dyers, in a land where only priests are permitted to use magic. Both run afoul of the authorities, and must try to understand how to apply their magical abilities in difficult circumstances.
I quite liked Trudi Canavan's first (Black Magicians) series, though I know some found it overly romantic. Her second trilogy (Age of Five) was less compelling, and I skipped the third (Traitor Spy) completely.
In this latest offering, the first in the Millennium's Rule trilogy, Canavan treads familiar ground. Very familiar; in fact the first book has a very formulaic feel to it. Young people, oppression, misunderstanding, romance. The writing is generally quite good, but there are very few surprises in this novel. It's been slightly updated to include a nod to steampunk, and slightly more sex, but otherwise, it's ground we (and Ms. Canavan) have trodden before. Even the societal pressures (girls must marry, raise children, not speak; creative types are poor but happy) are from some decades back.
The book is further weakened by a particularly limp magic system. Not everyone can (or should) be Brandon Sanderson, with a painstakingly (sometimes painfully) logical mechanism for magic. But, aside from an interesting innovation on depletion and creation of magic (inconsistently applied), Canavan doesn't even do much hand-waving. It's the kind of magic where you just exert your will and things happen. That can be fine as well, but when magic is easy, there must be limitations or consequences. Here, there are social barriers, but few magical rules. There's a strong feeling that the rules are at the convenience of the author, rather than having any kind of internal logic. Some of the non-magic elements were equally non-credible or inconsistent. It makes for disappointing and unfulfilling reading.
These limitations are a shame, because otherwise, Canavan is generally a good writer (leaving aside some awkward infodumps). The characters are (within their tired settings) interesting, and the story ends with plenty of things that call for exploration. If Canavan had taken the time to try for something a little fresher, the story could have been very good. As it is, it's a decent but not compelling entry in the generic fantasy ranks; one that suggests Canavan either hasn't grown as an author, or isn't really trying. ...more
A Danish cargo ship with a few passengers meets bad weather during a short voyage.
I started reading John Christopher a long time ago - maybe with The Lotus Caves (soon to be a film?) or with The Prince in Waiting, both books that opened my eyes to a whole different kind of writing than I'd seen to that point. I read The Prince in Waiting not too long after it came out, and for all its YA focus, it may have been the most adult thing I'd read to that point, with its hero forced to confront life's harsh realities outside his comfortable life. I still love those books.
It's just as well I didn't start with The White Voyage, a much more adult book in which things happen slowly and deliberately, even as reader and characters all see disaster looming larger and larger with each passing hour. The characters are well-drawn, but lack distinctive voices; even the stubborn, resolute captain takes some time to show a difference from his more romantic first mate. Christopher (who I only now learn was really Sam Youd), did better with his young adult characters, to be honest.
This adult book has a fair helping of philosophical introspection about the nature of life, destiny, and purpose. Some of it is absorbing and interesting; some seems misplaced and dry. What keeps the book gripping despite its somber nature is the impending doom that's clearly signaled from page one - even from the title. It's a ghastly, fascinating slow-motion crash that, for all its romantic concerns, does little to spare the reader's emotions.
If you only know Christopher from his young adult books, be warned: this is different. This is a thoroughly adult book, though a less effective one than his best YA. Its a dark and effective look at certainty and its costs. Worth taking a look at, to see a different side of the John Christopher you think you know....more
Maia, the half-goblin youngest son of the Emperor, is suddenly called to the throne when his father and brothers are ki reviews.metaphorosis.com
Maia, the half-goblin youngest son of the Emperor, is suddenly called to the throne when his father and brothers are killed. With no education and no allies, he tries to find his footing in unfamiliar surroundings, amongst unreliable subjects.
I've seen a lot of positive reaction to Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, and I envisioned a complex but innovative, steampunky look at goblin life. A look at the blurb suggested more of a political novel, and I decided it wasn't for me. On getting my Hugo review package, I realized the book had been nominated, so off I went to read it. Turns out I was right - it wasn't for me.
The Goblin Emperor isn't a terrible book, but there's very little that's original about it. Unexpected heir struggles to find his place - this is a fantasy trope that's been covered extensively. Addison doesn't bring much to it that's new. Pretty much every action the bewildered heir Maia takes feels scripted - entirely 'by the book' in every respect. He finds unexpected allies, turns out to have a heart of gold, the common touch, etc.The empire is composed of elves, but there's nothing essentially elfin about it - it's humans with pointy ears. Goblins turn out to be elves with dark skin.
Addison does herself no favors by substantially complicating the book's environment. There's scenery and verisimilitude and then there's getting carried away. While she uses terms such as Emperor, Arch-Duke, and Count, she also creates a whole new hierarchy of ranks, each with its own carefully thought out, gender-dependent term. Wise readers will spot an annex with explanations in the table of contents; I didn't. Without reading the annex, the book becomes difficult to follow as names and titles flow fast and free without much in the way of context. It's like reading a Russian novel without knowing about patronymics and diminutives - you wonder who the hell all these people are, only to find that half of them were already introduced by other names, and the reader's expected to just see the connection.
Addison similarly adds plenty of neologisms, including for one-time events or items (do we need to know that a Barizheise nesting doll is called a Barchakh'kaladim?). There's clearly a good deal of thought behind them, but this single-novel world is not one that calls out for Tolkien level etymology. I found that, rather than enriching the world, the vocabulary distracted from it.
Despite all these efforts, much of the world is not credible. Maia comes from nowhere and, despite known opposition, is crowned without much resistance. He goes through much of his new imperial life without meeting more than a handful of people. There's much more information about his burdensome clothing than about actually governing the empire. No one ever has any concern about funds, even when planning grand engineering projects. The ruler of another kingdom invites himself to stay, and it's accepted as a normal thing. I found it hard to accept, in an environment that is said to be complex and highly factional.
I've admitted to not being a fan of political fiction - factions, infighting, and manipulation - and that's really what this book is about. There is a secondary storyline about Maia's development as a young man, but it is clearly secondary. While some seem to have found that story the book's strong suit, I found it far from credible, and not greatly moving - perhaps because so much of it is so predictable. There's little depth to the emotions - more cues that here we should feel happiness, there dismay. Maia's 'I have power but I am imprisoned' by power introspection is everything we've seen before. His intellectual progression is also not credible - he goes from ignorant innocent to sharp (but bumbling) political actor in the space of just a few pages, with no apparent cause. Happily, it all works out, because, as luck would have it, he trusts and suspects exactly the right people. Maia at one point finds it incredible that people are so devoted to him. Me too.
While Addison takes pains to source some of his knowledge, Maia occasionally seems to pick up information through diffusion. (Would a man who's spent most of his life with just a handful of people in the back of beyond recognize the particular pattern of stylish wallpaper?) He's also simply not a particularly appealing person. While he's naive and innocent, he's also pretty whiny. While his actions are mostly those of a puppet ruler, there's no one pulling the strings; he's just shy.
Overall, the book gives the feeling of an author trying too hard, with a result that's stiff and stilted. Addison's world uses formal and informal second person address (you, thee), but also first person (we, I - and not just for royalty). It sets the stage, but is tedious to read, and requires frequent authorial callouts ("he used the plural 'we' rather than the formal"). To her credit, Addison, unlike so many other writers, gets the usage right almost all the time, and the few errors are likely no more than typos.
I've become more vocal of late about SFF that doesn't reach very far, and this book is a good example. Though written by a woman, it relies on standard medieval 'women are property' conventions. I'm tired of that even in books that are about fighting the patriarchy. Here, it's a throwaway - 'Hey, women are property. How about some lunch?' I'm baffled by why this theme persists. If your book is not about changing standards, why adopt outdated old ones? Surely even the most conservative writers aren't longing for the days when husbands literally owned their wives, so why use those days as the basis for fiction? The closes this book gets is that Maia at one point accepts a female guard - so long as the male guard is okay with it, that is. At one point, I hoped the story would turn out to be a complex satire. Sadly, it's not.
All in all, not a compelling book. I can't decide whether it's meant as young-adult fiction, but with far too complex a style, or as adult fantasy that's strictly by the numbers. I assume it to be the second, which places it in the 'readable but dull, and not recommended' category.
The official blurb for the book claims it "is a memorable debut for a great new talent." That turns out not to be at all true. As Katherine Addison's own website points out, she's actually published author Sarah Monette, forced by her new publisher to use a pseudonym. Monette doesn't seem too happy about this, and I can see why, given the misleading (actually, untruthful) nature of the promotion. As it happens, I've read and disliked one of Monette's previous works, Melusine, so it's unsurprising that I didn't care for this one. ...more
As punishment, Physiognomist First Class Cley is sent by the Master to investigate a minor matter. He sets out to do reviews.metaphorosis.com
As punishment, Physiognomist First Class Cley is sent by the Master to investigate a minor matter. He sets out to do so with his usual brutal, privileged, directness, only to end up on a course toward disaster.
The Physiognomist struck me as a self-consciously quirky story – as with Jeff Vandermeer, Physiognomist author Jeffrey Ford trying too hard to be outlandish and strange. This feels a story asking - begging, even - to be placed with Kafka. It would have succeeded better if it had made more clear what it was trying to achieve.
Reading The Physiognomist, left me feeling constantly as if I were missing some several layers of hidden meaning. Unfortunately, the subtletly confounded me - or simply wasn't there. Rhere are several obvious aspects of satire, such as focus on looks as a surrogate for capability, However, Ford spends quite a lot of time hinting at other layers relating to religion (the Master's name is Drachton Below) and psychology (hints at representations of ego and id) without ever committing to them. Several promising avenues are thrown out and then simply let lie.
Quite a bit of the story simply doesn't make much sense within its own universe, and the problem is exacerbated by the narrator's addiction to the drug 'sheer beauty' and its pyschedelic effects. The result feels more like a pastiche of surreal dream sequences than a purposeful narrative. It's original and interesting, but it's not good. It's a disappointment; the concept holds a lot of promise that Ford never follows up on, and the ending is flat and anti-climactic.
A collection of speculative fiction stories, including some related to the Kethani universe.
I first encountered Eric Brown via his novel Helix, which I thought was interesting in a Ringworld or Jack McDevitt kind of way - an intriguing alien artifact explored - while remaining lightish adventure. I picked up several of Brown's other books to find them quite different - understated speculation in a vaguely Richard Cowperish style, but without the same depth. Then a couple of drab detective SF books. Essentially, with every Brown book I read, I liked him less. Deep Future arrests the slide, but it doesn't bring the curve back up.
Many of the stories are from relatively early in Brown's career, but I didn't feel a great sense of development; I didn't like the older better than the newer or vice versa. My copy of his novel Engineman included several stories in the back. These stories read very much like those - contemplative, vaguely speculative stories that often focus on art. Occasionally, details in a story are inconsistent, or there's a large info dump, but on the whole, the prose is polished. There's nothing objectionable about the stories, but there's also little that's particularly interesting or memorable. Each story is preceded by author notes that add background about the stories' creation. If you're really keen to read fiction that considers art, or you're a serious Eric Brown fan, these may be for you. Otherwise, they're a pleasant but bland way to pass some time. ...more
Wallie Smith, reincarnated as Shonsu of the Seventh Sword, and struggling to fulfill the Goddess' mandate, has gather reviews.metaphorosis.com
Wallie Smith, reincarnated as Shonsu of the Seventh Sword, and struggling to fulfill the Goddess' mandate, has gathered a small group of talented supporters, but ruined his reputation in the process. Now, he has to recruit an army composed of fellow swordsmen - who all despise him.
I don't recall why I didn't pick the Seventh Sword series up when I first saw it years ago. Possibly because of its 'sidewise' concept, but more likely due that that bane of youth - lack of funds. It's just as well, however. If I'd read it back then, I doubt I'd have become as much of a Dave Duncan fan as I did.
The series started well enough - Duncan's usual light, character-oriented fantasy a quick setup, and off we went. Duncan seemed ready to jump in feet first on addressing slavery in 'the World'. By book two, however, he seemed to forget the issue. In this third book, he finds his 'remember slavery' Post-It, but seems to have forgotten what he meant to do about it. Wallie owns Jja, a slave whom he loves and treats well - except sometimes. There's a rough attempt to blame that on his Shonsu instincts, but it never amounts to much, and certainly not enough to be credible. Duncan's wrapup at the end doesn't do much about the issue, and it just fades away.
Part of the problem is that Duncan, a character-focused writer, makes a mess of his protagonist in this book. Wallie's reactions simply cease to be credible. Despite his deep and abiding love for Jja, he suddenly focuses on a new woman with all the self-control of a twelve-year old - and an immature one at that. Even factoring in Shonsu's hormones, it's just not credible. Lightly influenced by this, Wallie's character undergoes a couple of bizarre contortions before suddenly reverting with an 'all's well that ends well'. It reads like a section from some other version of the book swapped in.
It's not just philosophy and personality that fall apart. The final resolution of the Goddess' task is vaguely signposted through the book, but important parts are not, and the ending just doesn't satisfy. There are a number of possible solutions, but Wallie appears uncharacteristically dense until late in the book. The surprise twists and turns feel more like authorial intervention than organic plot growth. Some of the technology development chains feel under-researched or under-considered. The fact that the World extends well beyond the small space we've seen also doesn't quite accord with earlier description, and suggests late-book rethink.
As has been true throughout the series, the role of the Goddess is problematic. She intervenes a lot. She needs Wallie to make his own decisions, won't promise miracles, etc, but she's there any time he screws up. There are other gods as well (Wallie's opponents have one), but there's never any real discussion of how they fit together. And when the Goddess gives him another chance at decision, but at a tragically high cost, he literally chops to pieces the men she used as her instruments, with no more than a sullen glare in her direction.
All told, a disappointing original ending to a series that was never great. Happily, there's now a fourth book, written later. I hope that one can resurrect the series, but I fear it's too late to do more than bring it back to the region of 'fair but missable'.
The book also suffers from Open Road's maddeningly inconsistent proof-reading. The first two books were okay; this one has OCR errors sprinkled throughout. ...more
Wallie Smith, chemical engineer now in the body of Shonsu the master swordsman, has a goddess' riddle to work out, and reviews.metaphorosis.com
Wallie Smith, chemical engineer now in the body of Shonsu the master swordsman, has a goddess' riddle to work out, and little in the way of hints. But he has a fellowship of able assistants of all stripes, and the best he can do is try to muddle it all out.
The Coming of Wisdom has all of Dave Duncan's usual light fantasy charm and personality, but less in the way of structure and plot. It's a solidly entertaining continuation of the storyline, but not much more, and the ending is weak.
Duncan most often writes about likeable everyman heroes in difficult spots; part of his appeal is his ability to bring readers along to ponder ethical and practical dilemmas. He accomplishes that ably in this book. Wallie, from a different world, struggles constantly to understand and work with local strictures and mores that seem impractical and even dangerous. He's been given divine proof that things are different here, and he'd better conform, but struggles to keep his own moral sense intact. Duncan does a nice job of making the struggle entertaining.
At the mid-point of the series, larger moral issues have faded into the background a ways. While Wallie struggled with slavery in the prior book, here it's an accepted fact. He owns his lover, and that's the way it is. To his credit, Duncan mostly pulls that off - Wallie seldom loses sight of the fact that it's not an equal relationship (with one uncomfortable exception). Other slaves don't come off as well, and there's one change of cast that not only highlights the issue of slavery, but suggests that Duncan simply changed his mind partway through the story, as he dumps a character who never did much but stand around and stare. There's a possibility it was an intentional plot support, but it comes off as clumsy and jolting. There are several minor inconsistencies in the world and environment that stick out as well. Gender continues to be out of balance, with a very male oriented story. At one point, Wallie determines that a young priestess 'deserves' a better life - as far as I can tell, only on the basis that pretty (and smart, but the emphasis seems to be on pretty). One woman has 'an old man's eyes' - seemingly because they're hard and cunning.
Duncan's strength has always been more in friendly style than intricate plot, but most of his stories can hold their own. In this book, however, after a time the plot seems to degenerate into a long chase scene. Go to city, have adventure, figure out part of the riddle, go to another city... While Duncan handles one of the key puzzles well, he fails to consider a host of possible explanations for others, and seems to forget one entirely. The goddess needs Wallie, and won't promise miracles, but does quite a lot of intervening. The approach holds up for a good while, but loses appeal toward the end. A parallel to Philip Jose Farmer's classic river series goes seemingly unacknowledged.
The more problematic issue, however, is the ending. As the end of the book approached, I wondered more and more intensely how Duncan would be able to pull off a finale in just 50 pages... 40.... 30... 10... The answer is, of course, that he doesn't. There's a little set piece to balance things a bit, but basically the book just stops, leaving the big action for book three. It's disappointing, and far from making me anxious for the conclusion of the trilogy, suggests that I know pretty well what's coming.
All in all, a decent read, and a modest continuation of the series, but not Duncan’s best, and not satisfying in itself. ...more
Wallie Smith has died. Much to the surprise of all concerned, however, he's turned up in the body of Shunso, Seventh-le reviews.metaphorosis.com
Wallie Smith has died. Much to the surprise of all concerned, however, he's turned up in the body of Shunso, Seventh-level swordsman in a world of temples, slaves, and duels. Wallie tries to do good, but then a god steps in, and Wallie has to re-evaluate his choices.
I'm not generally a fan of sidewise type - where an ordinary guy suddenly finds himself in another time or dimension. There have been good ones - Narnia, "Sidewise in Time", Barsoom, "A Connecticut Yankee", Thomas Covenant, Amber - but generally I lack interest. I am, on the other hand, a fan of Dave Duncan, and The Seventh Sword is a series I haven't previously read. Based on this first book, he succeeds with the concept - partially.
Duncan doesn't waste a lot of time on the setup, and none at all on the preliminaries. Wallie Smith is dead, then he's in Shonsu, then Shonsu is effectively out. Smith accepts his new status fairly readily, and that's that. Fine by me; we all know pretty well how these things work, by now. To his credit, Duncan focuses much more on the moral and philosophical aspect of it. Smith avoids violence; Shonsu's world accepts it. Smith abhors slavery; in Shonsu's world, it's a fact of life. Smith tries to follow his original ideals, and in his new world, that's not always the right choice. Duncan returns to this idea throughout the book. Smith makes choices that trouble him, and he stays troubled, even as he begins to see things in part by local standards.
That makes slavery a difficult issue. Smith meets a sex slave, and makes an effort to do what he thinks is right. Sometimes. Early on, Smith has sex with his new slave, and I found his acceptance of the situation both uncomfortable, and not credible for his character. That discomfort continues, but it's also true that Smith himself is uncomfortable. It's not the one-off rationalization I feared, but a continuing examination of what to do with a slave in a world where slaves cannot be freed.
I wish that Duncan had made some different choices for his character, and it's true that Duncan stays well within his accustomed light fantasy lane. But I give him credit for at least considering how to handle slavery and for having that worry be a continuing theme throughout the book. On the upside, "How do you know when your slave is happy?" is a multifaceted question. On the other hand, the key slaves are all women, and their role is largely sex and decoration oriented. I'm hopeful that will change in later books.
All in all, an interesting and surprisingly thoughtful swords-and-muscles fantasy, but one that presents some moral obstacles to enjoyment. ...more