Book Review: The Long War, By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

cover of The Long War

full cover (front and back)

The Long War is fascinating, but not engrossing.  The premise is an interesting one, but the story is so fragmented and slow-paced that it never seems to go anywhere.  From a cerebral standpoint, the book is a triumph.  From a story-telling standpoint, it tries to do so much that it doesn’t fully succeed with anything.

Here’s the premise of the series, as described in Chapter Three:

The Long Earth: suddenly, on Step Day, twenty-five years before, mankind had found itself with the ability to step sideways, simply to walk into an infinite corridor of planet Earths, one after the next and the next.  No spaceships required: each Earth was just a walk away.  And every Earth was like the original, more or less, save for a striking lack of humanity and all its works.  There was a world for everybody who wanted one, uncounted billions of worlds, if the leading theories were right.

Here are the central conflicts of The Long War:

1.  Trolls, beings who inhabit most of the Earths, are leaving those Earths that are settled by humans.  The trolls are frequently abused by humans and the question of what they are, in terms of their relationship to humanity, is controversial.

2.  Lobsang, an artificial intelligence, is manipulating many people who don’t want to be manipulated.  He has essentially brought Sister Agnes back from the dead so that she will keep him in line with her own strong personality.

3.  Back on Datum Earth, Yellowstone is behaving in a strange and ominous fashion.

4.  While Datum Earth is eager to solidify its control over the Long Earth communities, they are eager for more independence.

That’s a lot of plot for  a 420 page book, and as you can imagine, none of it really solidifies into a detailed story.  I do have a bias against books that jump from plot to plot, but I’m pretty sure even more flexible readers will find it frustrating that each plot line deserves its own book, and all of them get short shrift.  I love it that the authors try to figure out all the implications of stepping, but I think the book would have more emotional impact if it stuck to one or two implications and looked at them in closer detail.

Fans of Terry Pratchett should know that this book doesn’t have the zany quality of the Discworld books.  It does share a certain dry wit and the general worldview is similar.  Terry Pratchett loves protagonists with good common sense, and he has several in The Long War.  Readers should also know that although there are many characters, and most of them are enjoyable to spend time with, this isn’t a character-driven novel.  That’s not a criticism, just a fact.

The most emotionally involving storyline involves the fate of the trolls.  But the message of tolerance and acceptance is undercut by the fact that while many of the characters see the trolls and sentient individuals, the three characters who are most involved in reaching out to the trolls have no problem treating kobolds, who are clearly sentient individuals, with utter contempt.  And they don’t just show contempt for one kobold – they show contempt for the entire species.  I’m puzzled by this discrepancy.

Despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Long War.  I like the idea that the authors take a concept and really examine all the permutations of that concept.  But it wasn’t what I’d call a page-turner.  I cared about the characters, but mostly in a perfunctory way, because there wasn’t time to get to know them.  I never felt invested in what happened.  But I did enjoy watching two brilliant people throw ideas around on the page, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.  So far, counting The Long War, there are two books in the series, and I recommend starting with the first one (The Long Earth).

cover of The Long Earth

The series begins with The Long Earth

Mini Review: Sky Riders, By Fae Sutherland

Cover of Sky RidersSky Riders is a science fiction/Western m/m/ romance novel.  It resembles the TV show Firefly in many respects – the mash-up of Western and Science Fiction genres, the theme of always being in morally gray territory and always being on the edge of both the law and financial solvency, and the theme of creating a family.  Sky Riders has a lot of action and dialogue, and I kept thinking that it would make a great web series.  The romance had parts that worked for me and parts that didn’t.  I didn’t like the macho stuff that the two protagonists go through in their relationship, but I did like the way they grew as a couple, and the fact that they accept each other for who they are.  By the end of the book, they recognize each other’s strengths, weakness, and flaws, and embrace them, which I found moving.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Here’s the thing I found most refreshing about Sky Riders:  nobody cared about the genders or races or ethnicities of the two protagonists.  In this particular science fiction setting, there are all kinds of social, legal, and economic issues that affect the main couple, but racism and homophobia are not among them (at least, not based on the content of Sky Riders, which is the first book in a series).

June is Gay Pride Month, and it was a pleasure to celebrate it by picturing a world in which people’s relationships are judged by how well they treat each other and how much love they share as opposed to the appearance and function of their genitalia.  I also celebrate the science fiction stories that have used dystopian futures to illustrate the horrors of discrimination in all its forms.  Science Fiction presents us with thousands of possible futures and says, “You have the power to pick one of these for your own (or for your descendants).  You can have a world in which there is more love or you can have a world in which there is more fear.  Which do you choose?”

Mini Review: Deep Deception, by Cathy Pegau

Cover of Deep DeceptionDeep Deception is another excellent science fiction romance from the ever-reliable Cathy Pegau.  This is a f/f love story with action, intrigue, and a strong sense of place.  Pegau’s last book, Caught in Amber, took place in a city and most of it was set at a glitzy mansion.  Deep Deception is set primarily in a rural mining town, and you can almost feel the grime.  As compensation, you can also almost taste the miner’s garlic bread, and I must say that the sex scenes are quite well-written (*ahem*).  The book has strong, interesting female characters and a compelling plot.  It works fine as a stand-alone.  In fact, I suspect it works better as a stand alone, because the main characters were supporting characters in Caught In Amber, and they were much more in touch with their feelings here than I would have expected from their appearances in Caught.

In short, this book is imaginative, romantic, suspenseful, and sexy, and Pegau is now an auto-buy author for me.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  The full-length review was published while this book was available for pre-order.  It has since been released by Carina Press.  Enjoy!

Things I Heard at the Nebula Awards Weekend

Nebula Award LogoThe Nebulas were an amazing event.  I was surrounded by brilliant people who were also warm and welcoming to me, the rookie.  People put me in contact with folks to interview, helped me with recording, gave me books (So!  Many!  Books!).  And yes, people did very kindly admire photos of my nine year old daughter, and, in one case, also photos of my dog.  Suave and professional, that’s me.  One of the highlights of the event was showing new steampunk author Michael J. Martinez a photo of my daughter holding her Yoda doll and watching Star Wars:  A New Hope and seeing a photo of his daughter using the force grip on him.  Us geek parents are a strange lot – and Michael’s book, The Daedalus Incident, is available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, should you wish to check it out.

I’m sure I’ll be blogging about this event for months, but here’s just a few of the odd, profound, funny, and marvelous things I heard, or overheard, at the Nebulas:

Alethea Kontis:  I wear tiaras because they are awesome and so am I!

E.C. Myers (who happens to be male):  I used to read all the books my sister brought home from school, and I loved the Sweet Valley High books, especially the one where Elizabeth gets in a motorcycle accident and wakes up with her twin, Jessica’s, personality.  I also loved The Babysitter’s Club, because Claudia was the only Asian character I could find.

Mary Robinette Kowal (whose character, Vincent, is loosely based on her husband):  You can tell what a crush I have on my husband by how many times Vincent takes off his shirt.

Connie Willis:  In good romantic comedy, love is a positve force when it is selfless.  Love, communication, compassion, can fix everything.  Sometimes love conquers – especially when people are willing to give each other up.

Sarah Beth Durst:  Fantasy is the literature of hope.

Nick Sagan (quoting his father, Carl Sagan):  We make our world significant by the courage of our questions.

Steven Gould (introducing the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Nominees):  A reading from the sacred texts of my people:  “The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked Northeast sea, is a land famous for wizards”.

Gene Wolfe (accepting the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award):  You are all strange and wonderful people.

Anonymous:  Oh, you have to go upstairs and see the bartending robot!

Your order?

Your order?

Review of 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

cover of 2312

More from the Nebula Award Review series!  2312 is up for best novel, and I can see why – it’s amazing.  This is not a book to whiz through while you’re in a hurry, or tired, or bed-ridden with the flu.  2312 requires your full concentration, but it’s worth it.

As you may surmise from the title, 2312 is about the future, when the Earth has been severely impacted by global warming.  Humans continue to live on Earth, but they have also set up colonies in asteroids and on other planets.  When a city on Mercury is attacked, Swan, Wahram, and Inspector Genette have to figure out who was behind the attack.

This is a fascinating book, but it’s not focused on character or plot.  Really, it’s a travelogue and a catalog of ideas about what the future might look like.  It’s fascinating reading as it goes into great detail about how each planet and asteroid is terraformed or otherwise adapted, and how humans have changed as they’ve lived away from Earth.  Here’s an example of what the writing is like, taken from the first paragraph of the prologue:

The sun is always just about to rise.  Mercury rotates so slowly that you can walk fast enough over its rocky surface to stay ahead of the dawn; and so many people do.  Many have made this a way of life.  They walk roughly westward, staying always ahead of the stupendous day.  Some of them hurry from location to location, pausing to look in cracks they inoculated earlier with bioleaching metallophytes, quickly scraping free any accumulated residues of gold or tungsten or uranium.  But most of them are out there to catch glimpses of the sun.

The book suffers from having Swan as its main character.  She is over a century old and yet she seems trapped in some sort of permanent adolescence.  She was interesting, but you can only stay interested for so long in someone you have no reason to care about.  This is a book about ideas, not people.  That’s a hard sell for me, because I tend to focus on characters, but I couldn’t deny that the ideas were fascinating.  I’m glad I read it, but I have to admit that I’m ready for lighter stuff.

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

Welcome to the first of my Nebula Review Series.   I’ll be attending the Nebula Awards in May, and am reading the books that have been nominated for best novel in preparation.  This year has a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy and male and female authors, and a surprisingly high romance content in the books, which I just love, of course.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fantasy novel beloved by everybody.  It’s been nominated for both a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award and is getting great reviews everywhere, and I can see why.  It’s a story with a vibrant fascinating setting and interesting characters.  However, I was frustrated by the pacing, which is oddly slow considering the plot elements.

Throne revolves around Adoulla, an aging ghul hunter who is feeling his years, and his assistant Raseed, a young man who is beginning to question the black and white morality of his Dervish training.  Adoulla and Raseed partner with a shape-shifting woman who seeks to avenge her tribe, and a magician and his wife, in an effort to defeat a sinister and darkly magical foe.  Along the way they become caught up in the political maneuverings of the Falcon Prince, who is trying to overthrow the corrupt and cruel Khalif of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms.

There are so many things to love about this book.  For starters there’s the setting.  It is a gorgeously rendered world straight out of The Arabian Nights.  The city of Dhamsawaat is huge, chaotic, and marvelously rendered – in the sense that it’s described with great technical skill, and in the sense that it’s full of marvels.  The smells and sounds and tastes and traffic jams and gardens all seem so exotic and so real at the same time.  You can see why some of the characters love it passionately and other find it exhausting.

Speaking of characters, they are the real high point of the book.  All of them go through profound and believable changes.  All of them are struggling with different life stages.  I loved that some characters were dealing with the realities of aging while other were dealing with the realities of young adulthood. Every character was a person, not a type.  They are funny, they are annoying, and they are moving.  Although it’s not a romance, there is a lot of romance going on, and I liked it that the love stories that involved older people were just as compelling, if not more so, than that between the cute twenty-somethings.

I did get very impatient with the pacing.  Maybe I was just having a weird week when I read this, or maybe I’ve been damaged by reading too many science fiction novellas in which people meet, have sex, save the world, have sex again, and declare eternal love for one another, usually in that order, in about 30,000 words.  But I have to say that considering the massive amount of carnage contained in these pages, there sure is a lot of chitchat in between battles.  Rasheed and Zamia are constantly saying things to the effect of, “The heck with all this research, let’s go kill something!” and eventually I started to agree with them.  I found this book easy to put down, even when I was only a few chapters from the end.  

Throne is the first book in a planned trilogy, and probably that’s why so much of it felt like set-up.  It ended well, on an emotionally satisfying note, with plenty to write about in the future but a resolved enough conclusion to enjoy as a stand-alone.  I certainly recommend it to fantasy fans, but be prepared for a startling amount of both gore and conversation.

Mini Review: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet is Book Two of the Lunar Chronicles Series.  This series, while not strictly a romance series, is a high-quality romance-friendly crossover, and its inventive steampunk/science fiction twists on fairy tales make it a must-read for genre fans.  I enjoyed the world-building and the twists on fairy tales.  I do recommend that readers read the first book, Cinder, before reading Scarlet.  Cinder is the book that sets events in motion, and frankly, I think is a stronger book overall, although both books are compelling.  For a full length review of Scarlet, check me out at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.