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Book Reviews - Qualified Perceptions
Book Reviews
Seven book reviews. Cut for length, but the review for the Companions has some spoilers too. You don't want to read it, though, so spoil away.

Metaplanetary (by Tony Daniel)
I liked this one quite a lot. It's a pastiche of different stories in different formats, from standard prose adventure to dialogue from a committee plot to exerpts from "historical" reference, to flashbacks. The plot comprises - well, it's after the beginnings of the civil war, and it doesn't get to the end of it, so it's a rather odd timeline, but it works. It's essentially a war between tyranny and freedom, but also (and given a lot more of the book) between AIs-are-property and AIs-are-people.

A couple flaws - this may be book 1 in a series, but it's very much not marked as such. It comes to a dramatic final scene, but a lot of the plots are very much not wrapped up. Main characters are still in prison, or separated from their family, the war has reached a dramatic moment but isn't over by any means. On the other hand, the first bit is a preface from much later, so you do know how the war turns out. So maybe it's a standalone book. I can't quite tell. (Actually, Amazon tells me that it has a sequel, Superluminal, and a third book due out eventually, so that answers that question).

And there are a few characters who didn't get enough explanation to make any sense to me, but maybe they're from a previous book. Still, there's really nothing bad about the story itself. There are funny bits, and tragic bits, and heroes and villains and the exposition of the SF physics is comprehensible and not particularly forced - even the lectures about quantum entanglement. Four and a half out of five stars - the half a star deduction is for sneakily being the first of three.

Superluminal, the sequel
Alas, not as good. Not as ugh-what-is-this-dreck as Blade of Tyshalle (the sequel to the stellar Heroes Die), or soul-deadeningly painful as Earth made of Glass (the sequel to the reasonably light-hearted Million Open Doors - I think the second book was Barnes' catharsis for a bitter divorce, but I wish he hadn't gone and published it afterwards...).

Just lots of little flaws that make the book less brilliant than its predecessor. The exposition of the physics is a little bit more forced (with Alice and Bob shooting olive guns at each other). The exerpts are a little repetive in the beginning; I would rather have had one chapter about military grist than three little excerpts ones. Less happens than in the first book - all the main characters advance their plots a bit, and some new named characters run through their character generation, but don't have a chance to do anything. Some of the virtual bits were beyond my suspended disbelief (like the zero-g soccer hacking non-metaphor). The "glossaries" at the back turns a little bit too much towards "working notes" - it seems inappropriate for the glossary to tell me in the definition of a type of toy, that a particular character plays with it.

But I'm better at talking about flaws than good bits, so here's some of those too: I really liked the opening scene, with the feral Jeep on Earth. The Major Theory / Jennifer Fieldguide romance is handled well. I found the space battles less boring than I often do in space opera. :) Three and a half stars for this one. I hope the trend doesn't continue.

Well of Lost Plots (Jasper Fforde)
I haven't mentioned either of the first two of the Thursday Next series yet, so I'll start there. I picked these up because crs mentioned the series (as starting really well and going downhill), and I have to mostly agree so far. I really liked the "real world" in which literature plays such a large role - the long-running Richard III that the audience has built a Rocky-Horror-like running patter alongside, is brilliant. And the first villain, Acheron Hades, in addition to being 180-proof bad guy, was smart and scary.

Moving into the BookWorld, things get more outlandish and also, I think, less clever. I can accept the mispeling vyrus, and when it's used on the dialogue, it seems about right. But "carrot" being mis-spelled as "parrot" isn't a misspelling, it's a typo. And "adventurous" being mis-spelled as "cadaverous" is just silly. I am fond of the Bellman from Hunting of the Snark as the boss, though heaven knows he's not a very good leader in the poem. But then it turns out that "Bellman" is a title and it was just coincidence that the current Bellman was the one from Carroll? That's kinda like retroactively making Queen of Naboo an elected office for young women.

Five stars for The Eyre Affair, four for Lost in a Good Book, three and a half for Well of Lost Plots.

The Atrocity Archives (Charles Stross)
This is totally the book for people who read both Slashdot and Lovecraft. It's a little odd to describe something that toys with the heat death of the universe and the atrocities of the Holocaust as "adorable", but I was hooked. The book is two novellas: the Atrocity Archive, and Concrete Jungle. I liked the first better; the second seemed to veer a little from horror to fantasy. When all the supernatural is Stuff Man Was Not Meant To Know And Generally Doesn't Know About, you don't expect the good guys to have zombie security guards. Four and a half stars, but keep in mind that I'm very much the target audience for this one.

Singularity Sky (Charles Stross)
I borrowed this one on the strength of Atrocity Archive, but this is slashdot crossed with space war rather than slashdot crossed with Lovecraft, and as such, wasn't quite so much my thing. The throway line that the UN had eventually been taken over by the Internet engineering task force amused me a bunch, though. Three and a half stars.

the Companions (Sheri S. Tepper)
Augh. Igh. Wow, I used to like Sheri Tepper, and I haven't liked her as much recently (she's gotten more bitter, I think) but this was awful! First, there's the bad guys of the first part of the book, the "IGI-HFO" group (In God's Image - Humans First and Only). The "iggy-huffos" are against any non-human Earth life, because it's not made in God's image. Which means not only are they in favor of wiping out all the animals wandering around on the planet (which they can sort of get away with because Earth is so overpopulated), they have terrorist strikes against Earth animals which have been taken to other planets. And legislation gets passed against pets. People beat up "dog-lovers" on the subway. Of course, after the first third of the book, the heroine leaves the planet, and the iggy-huffos mostly get ignored until they're wrapped up in passing at the end.

Second, while Earth is theoretically overpopulated, Tepper doesn't seem to be able to write that convincingly. There are these huge tower apartment buildings (but we only see the abandoned ones). There are subways that go everywhere (but aren't very crowded). The main character (Jewel Delis) meets a stranger, introduces herself, and the guy says "Oh, are you any relation to the Ambassador Delis who got killed on Mars?" and of course it's her father. I feel like a properly overpopulated world would have more people with the same last name than is normally the case in fiction. There really only seem to be five or six people who live on Earth (the named PCs), and they only really interact with each other.

Third, the main character is really annoying. When she's rescuing (a few) people who have been being kept as slaves for something like a decade (she can't be bothered to rescue the rest of them, she's too worried about rescuing the dogs that aren't really in much trouble at all), she's chewing one of them out for being worried and asking questions: if he keeps trying to talk to her, she'll leave him behind and let the evil aliens kill him.

Fourth, lots of little things: every character, including all the aliens, only know the one poem about animals, but they quote it constantly. Why do they need the crazy shapeshifting plot in order to teach the dogs to be dogs because there are no other dogs to teach them, when they've been breeding the dogs? What happened to the dogs' parents? The annoying brother seemed like he wanted to be Peter from Ender's Game but the author couldn't be bothered to make him convincingly brilliant or convincingly Bad. You'd think the human embassy to the most powerful race of aliens in existence would pay more attention to what the aliens liked, and not mock the person who points out that they all seem to care about gardens ("You say that they will not respect us unless we become diggers in the soil? Ho ho ho.")

I could go on and on and on. The ending was junk. The middle was junk. The beginning wasn't quite junk, until we meet the villains, and then it's junk. Do not read this book. Half a star, because the poem wasn't bad, and there weren't any gratuitous grammar or spelling mistakes. ("One point for correctly writing your name in the top right of the paper.")

Survival (by Julie Czerneda)
For a book which had a bunch of the same themes (ecosystem destruction, confusing but powerful aliens) as the Companions, this is a much better book, if not a perfect one. The aliens are nice. The science is plausible-sounding enough. The betrayals and the shifting allegiances are pretty well done. Unfortunately, I never quite bought the reason that the main character gets recruited to the plot, but I found I didn't really mind. And I don't quite understand why the bad stuff happened the way it did; the book ends with an ending, but not really a resolution. It's the first of a trilogy, so maybe there is more resolution on the bits that confuse me to come, but maybe not - the plot did end, just not quite explain. Anyhow, I liked this well enough (and I do like Julie Czerneda in general) to look for the next in the series to see how it goes. Four stars.

(The Fforde books are borrowable; the rest were from the MITSFS)

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2 comments or Leave a comment
twe From: twe Date: December 30th, 2004 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Half a star, because the poem wasn't bad

Aren't you going to share the poem? Then we definitely won't have to read the book.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: December 30th, 2004 01:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you go to amazon.com and look at the excerpt for the Companions it's the first two pages of that. :)

(I can't really picture hippopotamuses nestled together like spoons, though)
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