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Books I Might Ought To Have Liked More - Qualified Perceptions
Books I Might Ought To Have Liked More
Warchild and Burndive (by Karin Lowachee)
Warchild briefly looks like it's going to be a standard space opera, with space marines and a war with aliens. Then it looks like it's going to be Ender's Game. But it goes its own way; it's almost a philosophical dissertation on trust and betrayal, and how if you only hear one side of a story, it's always going to sound like the story of the good guys. The main character spends an awful lot of time feeling sorry for himself and being kind of antisocial, but he's had a hard life. Three and a half stars. Burndive is the sequel; it's not the next thing in the linear story, but picks up with a new character before the end of Warchild, and joins into the Warchild plot after a while. Unfortunately, while the author writes and characterizes very well, the main character in this one is just too annoying to feature as a viewpoint character for. By about page three hundred, he's grown out of most of his self-absorbed narcissistic whiny grumpy drug-addled bitching and moaning, but I had long since lost any sympathy for him, and he doesn't grow much new personality to replace it.

The quote I marked is "Everything else was more important than their son's concept of family. Perhaps even more important than the son." And sure, that sounds like the sort of thing I would have thought to myself during the few times during my teenage years that I was sure that NOBODY UNDERSTOOD ME and MY LIFE WAS SUCH PAIN (everyone has those, right?). It's plausible. But, really, of course other things are more important to the parents than their son's concept of family. Like the fact that they've both always been career-first people and their careers are totally incompatible (the deep space captain is only back every four years; the station politico wants to stay on station). I don't even expect that normal people would think "oh, we had better behave in such a way so as to satisfy our son's concept of family"... I just spent all book wanting to smack him, which is something of a testament to the author's skill. One star for enjoyment, four stars for well-written-ness. A shame they don't stack.

Un Lun Dun (by China Miéville)
Imagine a genre space bounded by Harry Potter, Perdido Street Station, Alice in Wonderland, and Neverwhere. Un Lun Dun is pretty much smack in the middle of this territory. It's charming, and surreal, and has one brilliant plot twist that redeems some annoying bits towards the beginning (that turn out to be intentional). In structure, it's the classic "travel through a strange and magical land, befriending the nice locals, fleeing the scary locals, and saving the world" that happens everywhere from Oz to Narnia; in flavor, though it's a "young adult" book, it's still China Miéville, so a lot of the locals have Unusual Things for Heads in addition to a whole slew of off-by-one-letter flights of fancy (the trashcan binja, the Black Window Spider...). Four stars (including the bonus half star for the plot twist).

Centurion's Empire (by Sean McMullen)
Odd little book. I found the overall arc somewhat uncompelling, but it made up for it by making many of the small details quite intriguing or amusing. The premise (a Roman centurion, travelling forward through time by being frozen) was much less implausible in execution than it sounds in summary, but for some reason, I just couldn't buy in to the huge importance that the centurion had to his village, or the corporation that it eventually became. Now, I have no trouble accepting that premise when the village is guarding the Ark of the Covenant, and celebrities also inspire the same sort of over-the-top devotion and loyalty, so I don't know why I have such trouble accepting it here. I seem to have a weird blind spot for cryogenically frozen Romans. (Hmm. Is the adverb "cryogenically" ever used for a verb other than "frozen"? Google tells me the answer is yes, and includes "cooled" and "enhanced"...). Anyway, I am left with a very puzzling feeling that the book deserved to be liked better than I did, but I only liked it about three stars worth.

Current Mood: pensive pensive

9 comments or Leave a comment
remcat From: remcat Date: May 31st, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I quite liked Un Lun Dun -- curious about the plot twist you are thinking of? It's been a while since I read the book. It reminded me of Fantasia, but for the urban set.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 31st, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't want to spoil it in the review, since I think the surprise was what made me like it so much. :) Hmm, there's no good way to rot-13 in livejournal. Well, if you're reading this and you care about spoilers, stop reading! Anyway, the twist I meant is that the first 1/4 of the book is all about Zanna, the Chosen One, who the Prophecies are About, who will Save Un Lun Dun. The animals bow to her. Magic grafitti says "Go Zanna!" - and Deeba is just her friend who happens to be somewhat unhappily along for the ride. Then Zanna fails to do the Thing She Was Born To Do, and basically falls out of the story, and the rest of the book is about Deeba going back to try to do it right, but saying "stop nattering about the prophecies!" as she does it. I didn't see that coming at all, so I found the fact that everyone worshipped the ground Zanna walked on kind of annoying, but it was a good buildup to saying "oh ho! it's not about the Chosen one after all!"
robgates From: robgates Date: May 31st, 2007 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)


I haven't yet read these, but did read Cagebird set in the same universe by Lowachee and was mighty mighty impressed. I rushed right out and bought Warchild and Burndive - but given my immediate "to be read" stack, it's not surprising that hasn't translated to actually reading them as of yet. We actually selected Cagebird as the Best Novel for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards last year and it had some stiff competition. I think you're spot on in your assessment of her skill with characters and themes. These are definitely complex works for adults, and none of the characters wear white hats. Although the main character in Cagebird is growing up through part of it - I didn't catch the same sense of whiny teen angst. It may have had something to do with the fact that he was being trained as a whore and assassin at the time. Dark and disturbing at times, but dang if it didn't impress the hell out of me for being a page turner despite some really squicky "I need a shower" moments.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 1st, 2007 12:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Warchild/Burndive

Warchild does the whore/assassin training thing too (though not at the same time); it sounds like I will probably like Cagebird better again than Burndive. (It's on my list for paperbackswap to send me, though I have the same problem you do about an inordinately large To Be Read stack).
mjperson From: mjperson Date: May 31st, 2007 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Cryogenically frozen...

In fact, I'd almost never say "cryogenically frozen". I'd say "cryogenically suspended" or "cryogenically preserved" or something like that.

Oooh, once I put Commander Galaxy in a game. "Pryogenically suspended in the heart of a volcano, he was cooled down in our time and is now EarthGov's greatest defender..."

That one really confused some people. Others took it in stride...
dzm From: dzm Date: May 31st, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been irritatingly disappointed in everything Sean McMullen has done beyond the first two Greatwinter books. I keep feeling obligated to buy new things as they come out, but Voidfarer, to pick something recent, just didn't feel compelling...sure, they weren't trying to destroy the world entirely for the third time in three books, but some crucial plot points just aren't that believable. Which is sad, because I really did like The Miocene Arrow.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 1st, 2007 12:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I was rather fond of Voyage of the Shadowmoon, though I read it long enough ago that 1) I can't really remember why, and 2) I'm going to have to read it again before reading the next two.

The author who has really hit "why can't you write that book I loved again?" for me has been Neal Asher, though I haven't yet given up hope or run out of everything else he's done. :)
mijven From: mijven Date: June 1st, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Since I'm busy adding things to my wish list, which book was it?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 1st, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Skinner, though it's not recommended for anyone creeped out by leeches. :)
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