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Four books - Qualified Perceptions
Four books
Belarus (by Lee Hogan)
I should have liked this book more than I did. About half of it was a space opera, with nanotech and a war and exciting explosions. About a third of it was a serial killer profiling mystery. The leftover sixth was wonky alien relations. It sounds like my genre. But the plots didn't fit together right, and each of the genres felt like it got short shrift. The serial killer gets described as a "superkiller" by the profiler, but she never explains why, other than because she hunts superkillers. And he's just not smart enough; at the denouement he just degenerates into obscenities and misogyny. The war is a little too off-screen to make sense. And what the heck was up with Baba Yaga trundling around in her chicken-leg hut on another planet? I know, I know, an advanced enough technology is indistinguishable from magic, but the reasons for that level tech back in old Russia is left unexplained. Ambitious, but it doesn't quite make it. Two and a half stars.

The Aware (by Glenda Larke)
First, I should point out that the cover of this book is in the Wrong Genre. It depicts a squashed-ish Boris Vallejo heroine on a rainbow-finned seahorse-thing. Now, the main character does have a sword, but she'd no more wear a tunic and boots but no pants than I would. And while she does ride a "sea-pony" on occasion, it's explicitly described as something like a hard-shelled earthworm with feelers and eyestalks. Not nearly so cute.

Anyhow, the reason I can be so clear about the cover being the wrong genre is that the book aims for a very specific genre of greyscale, medium gritty fantasy, and it nails it dead on. The main character is mercenary and bitter but decent at heart. The people on top are corrupt, but a little better than the alternative. The adventure is dramatic, with good dollops of tragedy and valor - though sometimes the good guys die before saving the day. Even the frame story, which I can usually do without, has a purpose. Additionally, there's a strong atmospheric sense of place to the whole thing, set on a grotty little fishing island called Gorthan Spit. Caveat to buyers and borrowers: it's the first book in a trilogy, the third isn't out yet, and I don't yet own the second (though it's on its way). Four stars.

Thomas the Rhymer (by Ellen Kushner)
Ellen Kushner has not written enough books. (I am not counting the several choose-your-own-adventure novels that Amazon offers me). Lyrical, elegantly written, sad and joyful by turns - there's some of the same themes of love and loss and fate as in the Time Traveller's Wife, but grounded in several old English ballads instead of light science fiction. The book shifts narrator between four of the characters, one at a time, and the voices are distinct without the change being jarring. It's a lovely little gem of a story. Four and a half stars, and the missing half a star is because some of the original-in-the-ballads plots were odd conundrums.

Halfway Human (by Carolyn Ives Gilman)
An interesting philosophical examination of gender, but more so of child-ness. I digress to refer to a marvelous essay mjperson once pointed out to me: Most of the meat of the story takes place in flashbacks set on one world, Gammadis (the one with the third class of ungendered, fewer-rights people called "blands"), with the present story on Capella (a different society entirely, all about proprietary information transfer). I found the Capellan society fascinating, in the bits and pieces I got to see (but there weren't quite enough); Gammadis society was also interesting, but it was hard to tell exactly how the non-bland parts worked at all. The biggest problem I had with the story was with the main narrator, who alternates between strong and weak, independent and deferent, without much cause other than what makes for a dramatic soliloquy. fireworksboy spent Easter reading it, skipping from flashback to flashback, and that probably glossed over several of the flaws; that's also points for it being reasonably compelling. I'm definitely thinking about uplift rights again. Three and a half stars.

(Belarus has already left to paperbackswap; the rest are borrowable).

Current Mood: awake caffeinated
Current Music: Williams Fairey Band

13 comments or Leave a comment
twe From: twe Date: April 20th, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC) (Link)


From the title, I was expecting a history book...
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 20th, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Belarus

There is apparently some crankiness from people who know more Russian history than I do, in the amazon reviews. "Belarus does not mean 'White Russia'! Belarus got conquered by Russia! All the time! Saying 'Belarus: the new Russia' is like saying 'Palestine: the new Israel'! People get upset!"
twe From: twe Date: April 20th, 2006 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Belarus

White Russia is a pretty common mis-translation of Belarus (esp if you assume Rus is equivalent to Russia), but it's definitely not the new Russia. :)

Mostly it's just weird to give a book the name of an actual, current country when it's neither a history, nor a travelogue, nor about that country at all.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 20th, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Belarus

Well, the premise is "Other planets get colonized by small ethnic/nationalist groups, and the guys from Russia call their planet Belarus, after White Russia." So it makes some sense, and it tries to be Russian-culture (hence Baba Yaga).

Maybe they figured if it was in the science fiction section, nobody would think it was about the real Belarus. Dunno. :)
From: desireearmfeldt Date: April 20th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think Thomas the Rhymer is the one I keep thinking I must have read because I've read several other Tam Lin/Thomas the Rhymer fantasy books, but haven't actually read.

Could I borrow it, and also The Aware, if no one else has leapt on them first? :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 20th, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Could I borrow it, and also The Aware, if no one else has leapt on them first? :)

Sure. I think the first time I rate to see you is Sunday?
From: desireearmfeldt Date: April 20th, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Er, probably, since I'll be mostly locked in Sala between now and then. :)

(I cleverly put the other book I borrowed from you in the Auria bag, only to discover that the run had secretly been cancelled. :) )
remcat From: remcat Date: April 21st, 2006 12:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Can I get on queue after Andrea?

I first ran across Tam Lin etc. in a song by Bill Jones. Interesting tale ...
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: April 21st, 2006 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Sure, you can be second.

(Note that while this has the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer in it, and also the ballad of Sweet William, the Famous Flower of Serving Men, it's not Tam Lin, though the two have a lot in common. Those elf-queens, stealing men left and right.)
From: readsalot Date: April 23rd, 2006 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your note reminds me: the other thing this book does is improve upon the ending of Delia Sherman's Through a Brazen Mirror, which is mostly about the aforementioned Sweet William.
From: tirinian Date: April 20th, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that's a really nice essay.
mjperson From: mjperson Date: April 20th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC) (Link)


Yeah, i first read it a few of years ago, shortly after I had watched the episode in question. The direction in the episode does in fact get across all the point made in the essay. Together, they form a pretty powerful, thought-provoking argument.
twe From: twe Date: April 20th, 2006 09:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Essay

I always found that episode of Next Trek really lame - the whole Disney the kids save the day because the adults are too stupid way.

I was also a bit baffled that everyone of them turned down free undoing of physical aging. It was also baffling that people seemed to assume by getting smaller they would have to somehow be forced to re-live their adolensces and that it would be the same. It seems to me that decades of life experience would make the great dramas of junior high seem rather trivial. (Not that I think anyone was really getting sent back to high school; from the point of view of any bureaucracy, age is age. :)
13 comments or Leave a comment