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Six Books - Qualified Perceptions
Six Books
The Black Ship (by Diana Pharaoh Francis)
This is another of the books I bought in London (The Gone-Away World being another). And it has come to my attention that the author of The Gone-Away World has has read my review, so now I am kind of worried about giving bad reviews... but I discover that I have previously given a bad review to Diana Pharaoh Francis, and she has not smote me. I started by taking notes, in the theory that the book would be as terrible as Angels and Demons, but it was not. Nevertheless, here are a couple of examples:
  • "The Ketirvan was held in an improbable room. Not even a room. An amphitheater, an inn, a tavern, a hall. Black wave walls towered hundreds of feet in the air, bunching and billowing in static fury. The seats were situated between rolling folds and rising whorls with plush black cushions made of crushed velvet and stuffed with goose down..." Okay, maybe that's an amphitheater. But... an inn? a tavern? In what way is this several-hundred-foot black glass art form like a tavern? Other than that a tavern is something which is not a normal room - as are bread, churches, and very small rocks.
  • Page 38. Depressed, our hero walks along the headland, in the rain. Carrying his cat, clutched to his chest. For a day and a half. This is like no cat I have ever heard of. Any self-respecting cat would have clawed his face off and gone in search of food long ago.
  • Page 82. The Pilot and the Captain are arguing, standing on the poop deck, as the boat is anchored out at sea. It's snowing. Suddenly, there are raiders swarming over the rail! Combat! The raiders are defeated - but where did they come from? Did they row up in a little boat? Sail up in an invisible ship? Teleport into the ocean alongside? I don't know which is most plausible; the characters don't seem to wonder. I think the GM was bored with the argument, and rolled on the wandering monster. It's a good thing she had a chart for "encounters at sea", or there might have been wolves instead.
  • Page 144. The Jutras Invasion (part of the backstory). This is a single enemy ship, which manages at great trouble and damage, to cross the magical ocean. It limps into the harbor, claims to have been blown way off course, and asks for help. "But as it turned out, they were invaders." Hee.
  • Page 212. After the ship has been attacked by pyrates, during a storm, there's an explosion and bits of the deck are on fire. People are trying to put it out, by dumping sand on the burning spots. However, due to the storm, big waves are constantly sheeting over the deck and washing the sand away, so the fire keeps burning. (Many pages later, in a different combat, it is explained that this is something more like Greek Fire, for which this makes more sense, and not just, well, fire. But it would have been better written to explain that in the first occurrence rather than the second.)
  • Page 227. I think a culture in which when you offer your hand to seal a deal, it is done literally, through amputation, has some issues. "Hilarity ensues."
  • There are some interesting bits, though. There's a Plot of "We have a pair of gods - the god of birth and bounty; the god of death and winnowing. Every year, they switch places. This year, though - the god of birth swapped, but the god of death did not. Now we have two gods of death. This is going to suck." It only appeared for about a page, but it was darned cool. Anyway, two stars.

    Shadow Man (by Melissa Scott)
    This was more of a complete thought experiment than a complete story. (Thought experiment premise: Drugs to enable people to withstand FTL induce sexual mutagenesis. The population is about 30% hermaphrodites of three different sexes depending on whether they have ovaries, testes, or both. There are nine defined sexual preferences, depending on which of the five sexes you prefer. One particular world is in fanatic denial, insisting there are two sexes and the 'oddbodied' could pass for one or the other if they would just make the effort.) It succeeded in making me think, even about the parts I was unsure I agreed with. (If I have both sorts of external genitalia, and I prefer men, is my sexual preference really a totally totally different word depending on whether my internal bits have ovaries or testes? On the other hand, in the real world, is my own sexual preference more like a straight man's (likes the opposite) or a gay man's (likes men)? Why are we homosexual and heterosexual anyway, rather than androsexual and gynosexual?) As a story, though, it's set in a world where the two big professions appear to be pharmaceutical research to find cures for HIV variants, and prostitution; and the only politics is about hermaphrodite rights. It supports the thought experiment, but makes the world feel a bit limited. All the comparisons are to Left Hand of Darkness, but I think it does an okay book a disservice by comparing it to a masterwork, when it just suffers for the comparison. Three stars.

    The Ghost Brigade and The Last Colony(by John Scalzi)
    The sequels to Old Man's War. The first book spent more time in world-building; having finished that, these two are little more about plot. It's also in the Fun Romp category rather than the Serious Hard Read, but it's a good fun romp. There's the occasional tech whiz-bang thing to remind you it's science fiction, but most of it is about people. I do appreciate Scalzi's habit of making all the sides of a conflict real, and even sympathetic, people, which frequently makes you forget that they're also sometimes the bad guys.
    However: For heaven's sakes, if you're the Secret Conspiracy, don't name your colony "Roanoke" for Significant Reasons. I know it's nice to have the characters eventually say "OMG they named us Roanoke - no wonder [plot deleted]! They knew all along!" but it makes them look like incredible idiots before they hit that point. Four twinkly stars.

    Sharp Teeth (by Toby Barlow)
    I borrowed this from rifmeister, who highly recommended it: it's a werewolf story, written in blank verse. I think it is a book that is probably improved quite a bit by reading all in one or a few settings (as rif did but I did not); the sparsity of the story (which the author describes as bread crumbs along the trail of the story) and minimal description for many of the minor characters made it harder to pick up again and remember who everyone was. (Whose pack were these dogs in again?). I did really like some of the poetry, and find it very evocative (though it doesn't work as well for dialogue), and as an experiment it's madly ambitious.
    She wrings her hands,
    pulling at the length of her finger bones
    as if hoping to draw answers from her body.

    Black Dogs: The House of Diamond (by Ursula Vernon)
    I am a big fan of Ms. Vernon's, but I've liked many of her other stories better. It's not a bad book, but it doesn't have quite as much of the wit as, say, Digger. And I am not as fond of the (other artist) illustrations; they look to me like they were designed for color but printed in greyscale, and suffer for it. (For example, in this one, I like the grey figure facing away, but the white figure looks washed out to me.
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    10 comments or Leave a comment
    pekmez From: pekmez Date: June 11th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Dang, I should have commented in your review of the Gone Away World before the author came and read it! Thank you for recommending it. I don't manage to read nearly so many books and I am very glad this was one of them.

    I actually didn't cactch your review of it, but zubatac did and it got him to go request it from the library, bring it on our vacation, and start reading it, and then we managed to share it/steal it back from one another/fight over it until we both finished it. All before it was due back at the library and without renewing it. We both enjoyed it very very much.

    From: desireearmfeldt Date: June 11th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Huh, not remembering the title offhand, I'd parsed the opening paragraph of this entry as implying she'd given Gone Away World a bad review, which made reading your comment very confusing until I realized my mistake. :)

    (Speaking of Gone Away World, are we still on the queue to borrow it from you when others have read it, firstfrost?)
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 11th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Yes! I realize that I was mistakenly putting both you and kelkyag in the category of "borrowing during the summer", when you were just "borrowing after term ends", so I'll give it to you when I get it back from rifmeister.
    From: desireearmfeldt Date: June 11th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Er... I'm not sure what distinction you're making between "summer" and "after term," but I'll happily borrow the book when it's available. :)
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 11th, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
    It's 52 degrees out there! It's not summer! :) (Not to mention, it's officially not summer until the solstice, right?)
    kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: June 11th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
    The weather is not summer. My summer is after Madrigal is over for the spring, which was very early this year, so it's summer, and a long one. Yay, summer!

    I read Black Dogs online a while back, with no illustrations, so I can't comment on those, but I think it reflected a younger and less sophisticated author. :) (And oh woe for my easily embarrassed inner teenager.)

    (Edited for spelling.)

    Edited at 2009-06-11 09:38 pm (UTC)
    From: desireearmfeldt Date: June 11th, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Well, no, it's not summer weather-wise, but surely she didn't think we meant we only wanted to read the book when it was 90 degrees and muggy... :)
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 11th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
    More that you said "after term", and I mapped it to "summer", but it is not yet summer to me, because I don't actually have terms. :)
    kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: June 11th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
    The Black Ship sounds suspiciously like someone's roleplaying run written up in novel form. Perhaps the cat was also depressed and/or ill.
    firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 12th, 2009 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)
    It wasn't enough of an ensemble cast to have been a very good run, though. :)
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