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Four Books, Three Reviews - Qualified Perceptions
Four Books, Three Reviews

On Company Time, In Bad Company (Kage Baker)
This has the best inside cover blurb I've ever read.
The Dr. Zeus company thought it had two perfect products: immortality treatments and time travel. Unfortunately, the treatments only worked on toddlers (not rich middle-aged men, the natural market), and entailed a lengthy, risky, and very painful series of operations. And time travel was no picnic either: it used immense amounts of energy, and, as they found out, history couldn't be changed.

But that restriction applied only to recorded history, so the Company made a new plan - go back twenty thousand years and create an immortal cyborg army to save all the lost treasures of the world, to be sold to the highest bidder.
This is actually four novellas (much like the last Kage Baker book I talked about) - In the Garden of Iden, Sky Coyote, Mendoza in Hollywood, and The Graveyard Game. In the first three, the books take place in a single setting in the past, and are basically social-situation stories; the fourth book deals more with the arc plot.

I found the first three relatively engaging, and the fourth rather more muddled. There are, also, some parts of causality that really don't bear thinking about. A simple example: "history couldn't be changed" - what happens to someone who tries? It's never mentioned. A more complicated example: the story is told from the point of view of the immortals, who are trundling along from the past, one day per day. So they haven't "gotten" to the future (the place that did the time travel to create them) yet. On the other hand, the future has already gotten the results of their meddling - the hidden paintings are being "discovered" in the future. So there's this unstated assumption that the people are going forward in time at the speed of narration, but that the changes they make propagate foward much faster.

In general, my reaction is mixed. I like Baker's writing style (I liked The Anvil of the World a lot more, which was I think written later.) I liked the social bits of the plot more than the epic parts, and once I finally figured out what parts of the temporal physics I shouldn't be thinking about, I was okay with that. But not liking the epic bits as much left me not quite sure what the books were for. Four out of five stars for In the Garden of Iden, three out of five for the set as a whole.

Tranquility Wars (Gentry Lee)
If you can't write decent characterization, then your book should be about plot rather than characterization. Hint: "Hunter, being a traditionally self-absorbed twenty-year-old, was too distracted to pay attention to Tehani, which he should have done" is not characterization. Nor is having the best sex of your life characterization. And if you need to explain the backstory, for heaven's sake, you can do better than having one character quiz the other one on history for paragraphs on end! Two out of five stars, at the point at which I gave up on it - I don't feel right going any lower without finishing it.

Inversions (Iain M. Banks)
Banks is (I think) frequently uneven in terms of enjoyability, but the guy can certainly write. If one hadn't read any other Culture novels, Inversions would barely be science fiction at all, and as it is all the assumptions are unstated. Like several other authors, I sometimes think he wants someone who reads more cleverly than I do, but I enjoy the ride anyway. The book itself follows two alternating stories, and I was a little disappointed they never came together in the end, only in the implied backstory. Four out of five stars, and I am inspired to go read some more Iain Banks again.

Current Mood: optimistic optimistic

4 comments or Leave a comment
mijven From: mijven Date: April 7th, 2004 01:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

That is, in fact, a fantastic inside blurb.
dpolicar From: dpolicar Date: April 7th, 2004 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
they haven't "gotten" to the future [..] the future has already gotten the results of their meddling [..] there's this unstated assumption that the people are going forward in time at the speed of narration, but that the changes they make propagate foward much faster.

So, I'm familiar with the trope (Varley's Millenium has some fun with this too) but I'm staring at that sentence trying to figure out what what other assumption might be true. I mean, yes, we experience the present in... well... real-time, and the results of the past... well... all at once. How else could it work? How would you even measure the speed at which two things propogate into the future, if it's differential... what units would you use?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 7th, 2004 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, it's more that my intuition is that they should all propagate the same speed (instantly, I guess). If I'm standing in the future, and I send back cyborgs to hoard art, and now I *have* the art, the cyborgs should have gotten here too. As of the instant (in this future) that I invoked time travel, then the changes take place in my now.

I can't really accept a time in which the me-of-the-future has one set of results (buried art) but the other set of results has not yet "arrived".
dpolicar From: dpolicar Date: April 8th, 2004 07:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I see... yeah, if the cyborgs aren't "back" in the future but the art is there, that's weird.
Incidentally, I have trouble accepting a time-theory in which they didn't have the art, and the millenia-old cyborgs, before they even built the time machine. But I recognize that it's hard to tell a story if you throw causality completely out the window.
4 comments or Leave a comment