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Three Real Reviews, Two Skips - Qualified Perceptions
Three Real Reviews, Two Skips
Emissaries From the Dead (by Adam-Troy Castro)
A science fiction murder mystery, that starts out ambitious and mostly manages to live up to it. There are hints of the early Retrieval Artist and hints of Speaker For the Dead (beyond just the title) and some bits that are reasonably unique. The premise: Andrea Cort is sent to an artificial habitat, where there's been a murder. The diplomats think it was the uber-powerful AI that did it, and want her to find an expendable scapegoat, because humanity can't survive a war with the AI. Now, that could just be an annoying depressing plot, but it's not; it's an good mystery, and a couple of what seem like irritating contrivances turn out to have not-bad reasons behind them. The backstory arc doesn't conclude, but it makes a lot of progress, and I find it acceptable that it doesn't wrap up, because the cover says "An Andrea Cort Novel" so you know up front it's hoping to be a series. Four and a half stars.
First Truth (by Dawn Cook)
Buried deep inside this book is the core of an interesting story. I like the image of the young woman, heading off to the great Hold of the Wizards to become a wizard, little knowing that it's haunted and empty, with just the one guy who killed all the other wizards lying in wait. That's kind of creepy. And the love plot (telegraphed from the beginning, when the characters start by squabbling and sniping) has some grace to it, for all that it's totally predictable. But... the characters are just too stupid to live! How can you forget that the lair of the bad guy has the bad guy in it? Not to mention the pre-game deaths, a whole pile of which are written off as "drowned because I sent them on a wild goose chase to a nonexistent island." I spent way too long obsessing about this. ("They drowned? What, did they try to swim to the island?") I also spent way too long obsessing about the world design, which has two cultures: the hill farmers (who supply all the food), and the plains/desert people (who have all the good tech, like pottery and silk). The farmers are all ethical vegetarians, but the plainsfolk eat meat. I suppose they must hunt, but that kind of contradicts the "all food comes from the farmers". It seems a little implausible that the farmers would raise meat for export. The bad guy's plan is to lure the plains and the farmers into a long drawn-out war in which nobody wins but there are lots of casualties (so he can Rule the World, muah hah hah); again, the "all food comes from the farmers" would seem to make this problematic. Finally, what the heck was with the ending? It looked like there was finally going to be a dramatic fight, but it slewed sideways into legalistic bickering and it suddenly just stopped. And, the cover is Just Wrong. One and a half stars.
The Tyranny of the Night (by Glen Cook)
Too many proper nouns. I couldn't take it.
Guardian of Honor (by Robin Owens)
I don't know how this ended up on my shelf; I think I mistook a romance for a fantasy. It still counts as a Mary Sue story even if it's not an established setting, right? The adventures of a plucky lawyer who is more magically powerful and ethically noble than everyone else in fantasyland; she is accompanied by the happy helpful shapeshifter sidekick (such sidekicks haven't been seen in fantasyland for centuries, but one has returned to translate and advise our heroine). She's also undoubtedly fated to pair-bond to the studly maverick son of the cranky guy who disapproves of everything worthwhile, but I stopped before I got to that point. (And, the author has a little rant on Amazon against people who buy used books. Presumably she also disapproves of libraries.)
First Evidence (by Ken Goddard) (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD)
Sort of like Signs meets CSI: first forensic contact with spooky aliens. This is by one of shumashi's wild-animal-smuggling contacts; a dual class in forensic wildlife analysis and best-selling author is pretty cool. I was a little worried at first that the expert gunsmith, expert helicopter pilot, expert Baroque painter (!), expert survivalist, was going to be something of a wish fulfillment main character, but he turns out to be the murder victim, so that was all right. The action is nicely tense and fairly visual; it really does remind me of a movie. The personal backstory was kind of lame and overangsty, but I suppose it was supposed to make me care more about the characters. I really liked the first two thirds of the book, until I hit the bad science, which triggered the "sounds too plausible to just ignore" sweet spot between midichlorians (just too nonsensical) and FTL communication through quantum entanglement (sure, sounds fine to me!). <Biologist hat on> It's true that adding another base pair option to DNA would increase the number of potential codons. But increasing that number isn't actually that exciting. A current-DNA triplet has 64 potential values, and those only code for 20 amino acids - there's a lot of redundancy already, because, essentially, we're doing okay with the 20 we use. If we needed more, we already have a lot of spare bandwidth. Increasing the number of potential codons to 216 per triplet doesn't help until we max out the coding density that we're already using, and having 216 different ways to say the 20 amino acids we use is irrelevant. Nevertheless, the characters get all excited about this, because any organism with that many codons would be able to do anything, biologically! Like shapeshift! Well, okay, discovering something using two more base pairs would make for a great Nature paper, but this is like saying "Oh my God! The runic Hungarian alphabet has 42 letters! Imagine the depth and poetry that one can reach in such a language! Speakers using such an alphabet could probably convince anyone of anything!" Anyway, three stars for a great tense action story combined with silly science and ridiculously overdramatic sex.


4 comments or Leave a comment
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 12th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: That's not quite how it works....

The four extra codons probably code for the boy's crockus, yes. :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 12th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: That's not quite how it works....

Though you're right in that I did mess up and include start and stop in my count, so it's actually 20 rather than 22. Maybe I'll just go fix that now...
arcanology From: arcanology Date: April 12th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh noes, death by proper noun poisoning!
4 comments or Leave a comment