Monthly Archives: March, 2011

Arks are by definition redeeming

Look, it’s a Revelation Space novel. Seriously. This is not going to be a bad review.

Redemption Ark sort of takes up where Revelation Space leaves off, but uses quite a number of different characters to present the narrative. Where the Conjoiners were just another group of weirdos in the first book, here two of the main points of view are from Conjoiners – who end up having quite different takes on the events. There are a couple of familiar characters, happily – who have changed in some ways quite substantially, but of course in many ways stay the same – as well as some other new ones, including one of the most ‘normal’ characters Reynolds has used to present action in any of the Rev Space books.
The narrative? Revelation Space hinted at Inhibitors, a machine race of some sort tasked with inhibiting the development of fleshy sentience into the wider galaxy; Dan Sylveste, in his arrogance, rang their bell. <i>Redemption Ark</i> – along with a lot of side-stories – addresses how the people of Resurgam, as well as some other concerned galactic citizens, might deal with this particular threat to their existence. Actually, it’s worse than that, since most of the people on Resurgam have absolutely no idea what is going on. It’s the other people – with mixed motives – who have to take action on their behalf. Enter two very different Conjoiners, some hyperpigs, and ordinary space-faring citizens, and the race is on to decide who is going to get the weapons that alone might have a chance of dealing with that rather intimidating threat.

I love this stuff.

As I said, there are a lot of sub-plots going on. There’s the whole back-story of the Conjoiners (more on them later), there’s the sad story of Antoinette and how she ends up involved in all of this, there’s those recurring characters and what’s happened to them between books as well as what they’re doing now (se me avoiding spoilers?), as well as an update on Resurgam and Chasm City. It’s this depth, this chunkiness, that all manages to make sense and add to the overall story, that I adore about these books. If you stripped all this possibly-extraneous material out you’d have maybe a 250-300 page book (rather than 650-odd pages), and it would probably be quite good, but… it would be missing the marvellous detail, the feel of it being a messy and oh-so-real society, that I love.

The characters are of course a wonderful part of that messiness. The Conjoiners, it turns out, are a society created by one Galliana in an attempt to bring humanity ever closer to one another – by being conjoined by a neural network that allows people to communicate essentially telepathically, and see things that other people are projecting, and even read further into others’ minds than simply their surface thoughts. The idea was to create a transparent, and presumably egalitarian, society. It’s a lovely utopian vision, and there are of course dark hints that way back when it was being established – on Mars, 400 years prior to the book – that it caused wars with those afraid of that vision. I know I’ve read about that back story, somewhere; it might have been one of Reynolds’ short stories. In Redemption Ark the Conjoiners are represented primarily to the reader through Clavain – an early, somewhat unwilling recruit – and the paradoxically ambitious Skade. These two characters are developed thoroughly and, actually, quite messily; their motivations don’t always make immediate sense, they are conflicted, and they make horrendous decisions in the heat of battle. I love Clavain; I respect Skade but I would definitely want to keep her at arms’ length. Preferably someone else’s arms.

There are other new characters. Antoinette Bax, ship-owner and budding transporter, is the fairly naive and hapless everywoman (along with her partner Xavier) who gets dragged along almost against her will. She’s one of the few sections I think could have been excised without the overall narrative losing much complexity and wonderfulness (did I mention I love this novel?). Then there’s Scorpio, a hyperpig. The pigs get mentioned in Chasm City, but they don’t play much of a part; their backstory is fleshed out a little more here, but we still have to wait for another story – I think The Prefect? and one or two shorts – to get much detail. Still, the idea that a new intelligent species could have arisen out of human/pig experiments aimed at making human organ replacement easier is fascinating.

It’s a great book. There’s tension on a galactic scale, and on a personal level; there’s technology, and overcoming its limits in potentially dangerous ways; there are cameos from earlier books; there is witty dialogue, and hinted-at dark pasts, and just wonderful writing too. #fangirl

Wave your tentacles in the air

I LOVED this book.

Major disclaimer: I am no fan of Lovecraft. That is, I have never read any of the Cthulhu texts. I had a friend in high school who really got into them, but… yeh. My aversion to horror goes waaaay back, baby. So if there are clever and/or snide references to Lovecraftian characters, ideas, or themes, they swam right over my head.

Anyway.

I had no real idea about what this book would entail, except:

1. Tansy abandoned it for apparent lack of tentacle smut;

2. The other two books by Mieville I have read (Perdido St Station and The City & the City) I have adored;

3. There would be tentacles of some sort, even if it wasn’t smut.So I had few real expectations, except that I was hoping it would be as engagingly written as his other work. On this level, I was certainly fulfilled.

Mieville’s writing style really, really appeals to me. It’s not overtly fancy and obtusely “literary” – by which I mean that snide insinuation that the author is using fancy, opaque words for no good reason; rather, I know the words he uses, and they make sense, and they tell a story. But there is SOMETHING in the construction, something in the sentences he puts together, that is utterly enchanting. He is a delight to read. This particularly applies to his dialogue. Mieville captures the essence of different characters through their words with each other; he has a talent for the rhythm of conversation, without falling into annoying attempts at getting all the slang and dropped letters in there.

My delight at the dialogue brings me to one of the really interesting aspects of Kraken. In many ways, this feels like a snarky, conflicted, love-letter to London. As a big fan of the Natural History Museum I was way more pleased than I ought to have been to see how big a role that place played. And I really enjoyed Mieville’s imagining of London as the great Heresiopolis, with its own Londonmancers looking after it, and having a really distinct and important character in the book. In theory the narrative could have been set anywhere near the coast, but Mieville makes it a convincingly London story.

The narrative? Well, it’s not the most original aspect of the novel. It boils down to an approaching Armageddon and what can possibly be done about it. There is a somewhat hapless curator, a possibly obsessive Kraken devotee, some snarky coppers, and a whole raft of Big Bad Guys all running around getting in each other’s way. There’s a twist at the very end that I didn’t see coming – but then, I rarely do, unless they are glaringly obvious. It almost all takes place in London, and from memory it takes place over a relatively short period of time, too – maybe a couple of weeks. It’s all sparked off by a giant squid specimen going missing in a rather… fantastic… manner. Things go downhill for our heroes from there, until the whole world is nearly devoured by fire. OH NOES. While I’ve read end-of-the-world stories before, it didn’t matter much. I was genuinely unsure, on and off for the whole novel, about whether or how Mieville could redeem the world from the edge of the abyss (I’m not spoiling by saying whether he does or not!)

One of the few niggling problems I had was with the female characters (surely that’s not a surprise to anyone). There were only three women of any significance, and their significance isn’t large. There’s a female copper, who I will admit to being very fond of; she has an extremely foul mouth, a short temper, and a way of figuring things out. There’s Marge (short of Marginalia…), who I initially thought was going to be totally wet but turned out to have… not “hidden reserves,” but a determination that refused to be defused, even when ostensibly the reason for keeping on going had faded. She’s cool. And there’s a Londonmancer, too, who becomes significant towards the end, but she doesn’t have that much of a role. So… yeh. Coulda had more chicks.

Overall, this was a rollicking adventure, probably more like Perdido than The City but really nothing like either of them. I don’t think it’s as good as either of them, because the narrative isn’t quite as clever. But it’s possibly more fun – depending on what you’re looking for in your genre-reading.

Galactic Suburbia 28

In which we keep celebrating our birthday, take in the Lambdas and the Tiptree, and did we mention there are Galactic Suburbia T-SHIRTS now??? You can download or stream us from Galactic Suburbia, or get us from iTunes 

News
Lambda Awards

Being a Female Gamer
Kristine Kathryn Rusch discusses the business of being an author
Woman wins award, man gets attention
Ian Sales’ SF Mistressworks & starts the SF Mistressworks meme
Hugo reminder: get your nominations in!
Galactic Chat
T SHIRTS
Tiptree!! 

Feedback
Competition open for another fortnight – keep sending in entries! Email us with fave GS moment and what cake you ate.

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Tansy: Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres; Laid (ABC TV)
Alisa: Star Trek Enterprise Season 4, Fringe eps 11 -13,
Alex: Genesis, by Bernard Beckett; Redemption Ark, Alastair Reynolds; Version 43, Philip Palmer (abandoned)… Battlestar Galactica

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Under the Poppy

This is the second book I read as part of my guest stint on The Writer and the Critic. I’d never heard of Koja before, and all I had to go on was Kirstyn’s raving and Mondy’s disgust. Good times.

Looking around on GoodReads it’s clear that this book evokes strong reactions both ways in many people. And I too am riven by indecision about it. The writing is absolutely exquisite; Koja is a mistress of the evocative phrase, the perfect description. It’s a delight to read her prose. This delight may be the only thing that got me through the whole book, and even then I skimmed chunks of the last hundred pages or so. Because, sadly, the plot could not carry me, and the characters weren’t especially engaging either.

Some spoilers… but not very many.

The novel begins in a brothel in an unnamed town, probably at the tail end of the 19th century, somewhere in Europe. It’s owned by Decca and Rupert – not a couple – and as well as whores, Under the Poppy is proud to stage erotic dramas. Real-life drama occurs when Decca’s brother Istvan turns up, unearthing old hurts and catalysing all sorts of other problems. There’s a war in the offing, so there are soldiers in town, and some rather unsavoury characters who may be involved in the war in more ways than one….

In theory, the plot could have been very interesting: love and personal hurt and betrayal in a time of war can have a lot going for it. And the fact that the novel is set in NoTime, and NoRealPlace, lends a lovely note of the surreal which is aided by the surreality of the Poppy’s dramatic presentations, and Istvan’s puppets. Sadly, though, the very subtlety that was quite engaging eventually made me very impatient. Very few issues were ever resolved (until the end, where perhaps too much was tied up too nicely for the general tone of the story (contrary, aren’t I?)), very little of any character’s background was ever fully fleshed out, and while I’m all for mystique there’s a line where mystique becomes so opaque as to be ridiculous. For me, Koja crossed that line.

This mystique affected both the plot and the characters. I enjoyed the technique of third-person narrative interspersed with first-person recollections of the past, or commentary on the current situation; that was very well done. However, there wasn’t quite enough back story for me to ever fully connect with the characters. And one of the main characters for whom I felt a great deal of sympathy – Decca – ends up being treated so poorly by Koja that I couldn’t help but feel offended on her behalf. Yes, Istvan and Rupert are incredibly complex and fascinating characters; but neither of them is very sympathetic (to my mind), and their tantrums got a bit wearing after a while. Unlike someone whose review I read (I don’t recall where), Rupert and Istvan will never be among my Top Romantic Pairs of All Time. I rolled my eyes at them too many times.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. The mystery of when and where was enough to drive me slightly wild, trying to figure out whether any of the events had genuine historical counterparts. Deeper than that, though, was what Koja was doing with Istvan’s puppets. The parallels between Istvan’s use of them in precipitating events and reactions in his audience, and the use to which Istvan himself was put (and others, too), was clever, subtle, and rather pointed I thought (in a good way).

Am I glad I read it? No, not really. The plot fell just short of engaging, although as I said the prose was swoon-worthy; and, although the sex wasn’t usually that graphic, it was just graphic or suggestive enough that it crossed out of my comfort zone.

Shakespeare, sex, and drugs

I read this because it was the book picked by Mondy for March’s Writer and the Critic podcast, on which I was the guest (which is full of spoilers for the book). It’s kinda my sort of book… and kinda really not.

I am a Shakespeare Fan. I love me some Bard. Not the comedies, though; I love the tragedies and the histories. Oh, and Much Ado, but that’s a whole ‘nother story (one involving Kenneth and Emma and Ben Elton and Michael Keaton and Keanu…). So, a book that alternates chapters about Will Shakespeare Greenberg, aspiring Masters student at UCal, with the late-teen years of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, is in theory a very appealing one to me. And Winfield clearly knows (or got to know) his Shakespeare: there are allusions, and direct quotes, in I think every single chapter – and they all seemed effortless, too. I enjoyed the development of sixteenth-century Stratford. I’m not entirely convinced by man-whore Shakespeare, but I see the point from a narrative point of view, and it’s not a completely ridiculous suggestion. Overall it was a reasonably interesting portrayal of his early adulthood.

On the other hand, there was Will Greenberg. A book published in 2008 choosing the mid-1980s as its setting is kinda weird, although I understand why: Winfield was drawing (perhaps tenuous) connections between the persecution of Catholics by Elizabeth with the crackdown on drugs by the Reagan administration. The portrayal of a Masters student of literature was hugely stereotypical, sadly – although again I see the point from a narrative point of view, especially in terms of the drug use. It doesn’t help the view of Arts students in general though, and the idea that marvellous ideas come in a flash of lightning or drug overdose is just annoying and unhelpful. It may be that I am a prude, but I got bored by the descriptions of drug use and the explicit sexual content; it got in the way of telling the story.

So… not really my thing, actually. Certainly well written, in the early modern bits in particular; as a former history/lit student myself I found the brief discussion of literary theory, especially the bagging of New Historicism, pretty funny (I am a big fan of Stephen Greenblatt, one of the original proponents). But the characters weren’t that engaging and the story wasn’t that compelling.

BSG rewatch: Unlimited access

2.8: Final Cut

This episode interweaves the repercussions of what has become known to the Fleet as “the massacre on Gideon” – when Tigh sent marines in to get their supplies, and they opened fire on civilians – with the sort of episode I didn’t think we’d get on BSG: the behind-the-scenes, daily-life one. Both of these strands are made possible by a new character, D’Anna Biers, played by Lucy Lawless.

D’Anna is investigating the ‘massacre’, and will potentially put out a very damaging (for Tigh, and Galactica) report. To counter this, Roslin and Adama invite her on to Galactica, with unlimited access to the crew, so that she can get a sense of what it’s like for them – and report on that to the rest of the Fleet.

This is a very clever thing for Roslin and Adama to do, of course; the theory is that finding out that the pilots who protect you are human, and have their own fears and dreams, will make the Fleet more sympathetic towards them and more forgiving. It’s also a clever piece of writing for the show, because unless you introduced a psychologist character, or showed them having fairly uncharacteristic D&M conversations with each other, showing the sort of emotional turmoil we get here would have been very difficult indeed. As a result, we get to hear why Cat has been taking stims by the fistful, and we get to see Dee trying to put a brave face on everything, as well as a few other character insights. I love Felix Gaeta more and more with each episode – he’s so competent, and calm, and yet in this episode, he talks quite frankly about why he smokes and what his plans had been before the attack. Oh, and seeing Baltar so desperate to get interviewed is quite frankly.

Meanwhile, Ellen has been terrified by some graffiti in the cabin she shares with Tigh, and a shuttle Tigh was meant to fly on develops a problem that would have killed him and the crew if it had taken off. It turns out that the man who led the Gideon mission has been sent a little bit nuts by the event and its repercussions, and is seeking vengeance through Tigh. It’s an interesting insight into the ramifications of acting as a soldier, and the conversations had by various people about how to react to the events – from Adama, and Tigh, as well as others – show that the writers were not trying to paint anyone as wholly good or bad. I was a bit disappointed with just how patriotic and triumphalist the episode got in the end, though; it verged on nauseating.

The very, very end of this episode is chilling. A theatre, with the human-looking Cylon models watching D’Anna’s footage… and D’Anna there, reassuring them that yes Caprica-Sharon is doing well, and the baby is still alive.

CYLON!!

BSG stats:

  • Starbuck in the brig: 1
  • Baltar in the brig: 1
  • Women Baltar shows interest in (not including Six): 4
  • Women Baltar actually gets to sleep with: 2
  • Baltar religious conversions: 2
  • Different sexy dresses worn by Caprica-Six: 14 (and one sports outfit)
  • Apollo sides with President against Dad: 4
  • Number of Cylons viewers know about: 6
  • Number of Cylons humans know about: 2 (and Starbuck an additional one)
  • Roslin has a vision: 3
  • People deliberately thrown out the airlock: 1 (+3 threats)
  • Ships lost: 1
  • Ellen gets suggestive: 3
  • Starbuck and Apollo do fisticuffs: 1
  • Starbuck and Apollo kiss: 1

BSG: Putting the band back together

2.6: Home, part 1

Starbuck, Helo and Caprica-Sharon make it back to Kobol and the 24 ships that have followed the President back there. Apollo, of course, goes slightly insane on seeing Sharon, his father only just recently coming around from being shot by the original. The President threatens to throw Sharon out of the airlock, to Helo’s obvious horror, and then she mentions that she knows where the Tomb of Athene is… which buys her some time. Things are not all hunky-dory among this rebel crew, of course: Mr Meier, Zarek’s off-sider (played by the same guy as played one of the nastier Jericho characters), keeps encouraging Zarek to consider what might happen out there to, say, Apollo and/or the President. Now that they have the Arrow, Roslin takes a crew down to Kobol to search for the Tomb and thus the way to Earth. Everyone is terribly suspicious of Sharon, of course… and the fact that she saves them from a Cylon ambush actually doesn’t help very much. It’s always possible to see something like that as still being self-serving.

Back at the main fleet, Adama seems to be losing it a bit. He’s back in charge but he is far more wounded than he would like to admit by Apollo’s desertion of him. He chooses a new CAG – one that Tigh is very much against, with good reason it turns out, since his inattention nearly gets Cat killed on a training op. Having been invited to speak with him frankly, Dee tries to encourage Adama to see that putting the Fleet back together should be of paramount importance. He dismisses her, but eventually realises he was right and announces their return to Kobol. Of course, the real question is just what will he do to Roslin, Apollo, and everyone else who ‘abandoned’ him?

This episode doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting one, but once again it’s the seemingly little moments of tension that really make this show amazing. Roslin’s duplicity in stopping Helo from threatening Apollo and then ordering Sharon’s death is a remarkable demonstration of her ruthlessness. Adama not immediately coming back to full strength and being visibly affected by the loss of people to Kobol is a slightly uncomfortable reminder that this man, who is in charge of the safety of humanity, is himself frail and flawed. Apollo is incredibly pleased to see Starbuck – perhaps more than he should be – and even gives her a kiss on the lips. Plus, it’s a two-parter, so you then have to go straight on to…

2.7: Home, part 2

Once again this episode has two narrative tracks. One is on Kobol, as Adama finds the President and they fulfil her mission; but the other is on Galactica and centres on Baltar.

Baltar is getting increasingly frustrated with Six; she has told him that their child will be born in Galactica’s brig, and Baltar just can’t stomach that. Six gets so frustrated with him, in turn, that she next appears to him looking completely different: hair straight and slicked back, little make up, and instead of her trademark slinky dress she looks like she’s just back from the gym. In this guise she laughs at him and tells him that he is indeed going nuts, and she is his sub-conscious mind playing tricks. The possibility of insanity is played up by the cinematography, because there are a number of shots of Baltar, mid-conversation, talking to an empty room. This has rarely happened in the past, except perhaps at the end of a conversation. Baltar then goes off to get his brain scanned, looking for a Cylon chip, but of course there isn’t one…

Meanwhile, on Kobol, Adama – and Billy, whom Adama decided was a good addition to the team looking for Roslin – do indeed find the Indiana-Jones-wannabes. Adama of course has a very bad reaction to Caprica-Sharon… and the Chief, who is also along, perhaps as bad. It’s all very fraught really. They spend a bit of time reconnecting, camping in the rain, and then tramp off looking for the Tomb. Meier is working on Sharon, getting her to agree to killing the old man (again). When they finally get to the tomb, Sharon double-crosses Meier – shooting him – and willingly surrenders to Adama, to prove that she is working of her own free will and not because she is programmed. No one much really believes her, although I think Adama is troubled by it.

The episode ends with entry into the tomb, and our heroes being shown how to reach Earth: it’s the place where all of the constellations representing the Twelve Colonies are visible in a certain way in the sky. Now, this is slightly problematic from an astronomical point of view, but it is beautifully done for the show. I love that the main pointer for them, from where they are, is the Lagoon Nebula – because I’ve seen that, through my telescope. So we conclude with hope: the President is reinstated, martial law is over, and we know (kinda) how to find Earth. Hurrah! … although Caprica-Sharon is in the brig, Helo and the Chief are going to have some serious issues, and Baltar is… well, Baltar. Good times.

BSG stats:

  • Starbuck in the brig: 1
  • Baltar in the brig: 1
  • Women Baltar shows interest in (not including Six): 4
  • Women Baltar actually gets to sleep with: 2
  • Baltar religious conversions: 2
  • Different sexy dresses worn by Caprica-Six: 13 (and one sports outfit)
  • Apollo sides with President against Dad: 4
  • Number of Cylons viewers know about: 5
  • Number of Cylons humans know about: 2 (and Starbuck an additional one)
  • Roslin has a vision: 3
  • People deliberately thrown out the airlock: 1 (+3 threats)
  • Ships lost: 1
  • Ellen gets suggestive: 3
  • Starbuck and Apollo do fisticuffs: 1
  • Starbuck and Apollo kiss: 1

A balanced diet: getting my nerd AND bogan on

This weekend has seen me both nerd it up and bogan it… down…

Saturday night we headed off to the first MSO Pops event for the year. It was called “Star Wars and Beyond,” so I was expecting it to be space-y type stuff, much like the one we went to a few years ago. Rather, it was subtitled “A celebration of John Williams,” so it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. There were still 5 pieces from Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman, and Lost in Space… but we also got music from Memoirs of a Geisha, JFK, and Schindler’s List, to name just a few. The music was, of course, exceptional; the conductor was the same guy we saw do the space-themed one, and he did the same Superman joke – pulling his shirt apart – and he wore the Obi-Wan cloak, and even pulled out a Princess Leia hairpiece! He’s a good sport. Perhaps the best bit was him coming out on a tiny little bike, with a red hoody on and an ET in the basket in front….

With a 20 minute intermission, the concert lasted just over 2.5 hours, and by the end of it I was definitely done; my tolerance for instrumental music had definitely been reached. I have so many classical music aficionados among my friends that I sometimes feel quite guilty for not being that interested. But I realised something last night: I am not interested in being challenged by music. I am challenged in my reading, and I do not care to extend that to my ears. And that’s OK.

Today… well, today was different. Today we went to see Top Gear Live. We were three rows from the front, front on to the screens; we were close enough that when the flares flamed, and the cars were on fire, we could feel the heat on our faces. The ca-soccer was marvellous: played mostly with Reliant Robins (the three-wheeled jobbies), it was incredibly skilful driving. And there was a motorcyclist doing stunts that involved a JBC digger. But the bits in between the stunts… Jeremy Clarkson and James May were kinda funny; Richard Hammond wasn’t there so they’d replaced him with Steve Jacobson (Kenny), who was mostly unfunny; and sadly, the repertoire of jokes largely consisted of fat jokes, homophobin jokes, penis jokes, and poo jokes. Not the sorts of thing that are actually funny. If I had paid for the tickets, I would have been disappointed.

I did enjoy looking at the range of racing cars in the museum they had set up, though, with Mustangs and Corbettes and Alfas and Selbys… there is a little part of me that is quite the rev-head. I was sad that the rain had started when the performance finished, because it meant we didn’t get to see the drifting demonstration.

Betrayer of Worlds

This review initially appeared at Dreams and Speculations. Thanks to TJ for having me as a guest reviewer!

Title: Betrayer of Worlds
Author: Larry Niven and Edward M Lerner
Format: HC
Page Count: 315
Genre: SF
Publisher: Tor
Pub. Date: 2010
ISBN-13: 9780765326089
Series: sort of the fourth in the series of prequels to Ringworld
Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary:
Louis Wu is dragooned by the alien Nessus into trying to help his species, the Puppeteers, from the possible menace of another species, the Gw’oth. Meanwhile all sorts of machinations are going on within the various species, with potentially disastrous results for all of them.

Brief Version:
I was expecting a grand space opera/adventure. What I got was something that tried to be that but instead left me cold, with no connection to characters and caring little for the outcome.

Review:
The publishers claim that this book can stand alone. It proclaims itself a “Prelude to Ringworld,” but there is no mention on the jacket that there are three other books that fall in the same category, all of them covering events chronologically preceding this one. While it is true that enough back story is given that events and references (mostly) make sense, that back story cannot help but feel frankly tedious. And sometimes there just wasn’t enough explanation for various characters’ motivations or desires to make sense. I think the publishers would have been better marketing this as the fourth in a series, allowing relationships and character nuances to therefore develops organically – and readers like myself, coming in late, be damned.

This review is necessarily biased by the fact that I have read no other Ringworld book. I have no doubt that those who have read the other prequels, or even those who have read the original series, would be more forgiving of its flaws and more understanding of subtleties that no doubt passed me by. Nonetheless, a discussion of the plot and some of the characters:

It’s a fairly complex plot, with multiple changes in viewpoint and numerous crosses and double-crosses. There are humans, Puppeteers (they prefer Citizens) and the Gw’oth; there are stationary planets as well as the Fleet of Worlds belonging to the Puppeteers; there are spies, and mercenaries, and politicians. Bad things happen. Some good things happen, but not many. With few exceptions, though, there was little development of motivation for the Evil Deeds. Additionally, the plot sometimes bypassed ‘fast-paced’ straight to ‘chaotic and jumpy’.

It was the characters that seriously let me down. Louis Wu, aka Nathan Graynor, is a seriously boring lead human. He’s meant to be the one that the reader can genuinely identify with… but he was so dull. He largely lacks motivation and personality; he’s haunted by family memories that are poorly explained; and he mopes a lot. He also gets off a drug addiction so annoyingly fast that it simply screamed Plot Device.

The Puppeteers – so named by humans, apparently, because their double heads look like sock puppets! – could have been very interesting indeed. I don’t recall ever reading about a species whose distinguishing characteristic is ingrained cowardice: cowardice such that they flee a disaster still many thousands of years into their future. But… this is a species with space-faring capabilities; a species whose only limbs are their (three) legs – they manipulate things with their lips and tongues. It is totally unclear to me how they developed any technology at all with those two characteristics; perhaps it’s covered in another book, but it made them quite implausible to me. I did like that they took classical human names when interacting with our species – it was a nice touch – but there was so little presented of their society that really, I did not care.

The main redeeming feature of this book are the Gw’oth, as a society. Wily undersea critters that I imagine look a bit like anemones – they certainly have wavy tentacle bits – they are divided in this story between two planets, one a traditional monarch-ruled society, the other essentially a science-based, Enlightenment-type place. In the latter, the Gw’otesht – essentially a gestalt of made of numerous individuals – are finally accepted as legitimate members of society. This species is genuinely intriguing, and their motivations and desires made the most sense of all.

Two other things bugged me about Betrayer of Worlds. First, the madey-uppy slang. It felt forced and silly. Second, the women, and lack thereof. The first female who gets any real amount of page-space falls into bed with Louis. There’s a female merc, and some female Gw’oth who have a genuine, if cameo, role. And the place of women or reproduction in Puppeteer society is totally opaque; there’s a mention of Companions, who might become Brides if necessary, but that’s it.

So… yeh. I finished it, but I will admit that I skimmed for the last hundred or so pages; I wanted to know how it resolved – and there were some surprises, which pleased me – but overall, the writing did not warrant a thorough read and the required use of my time.

Rating: 6 of 10
I acknowledge being biased by my lack of knowledge about the rest of the series. However, that should not make as much of a difference as it did to feeling a connection – or emotion at all – towards the characters. It should, in a good book, make me itch to go read the rest of the series. Sadly, the writing and characterisation let what could have been quite a good story down. I may one day track down the original Ringworld, and if it’s amazing I might try the others, but they by no means go to the top of my (teetering, slightly perilous) to be read pile.

Darkship Thieves

This is the March book for the Women of SF Book Club, and I was really quite excited about reading it. Check out that cover! It’s a 2010 book, but it looks delightfully pulpy, doesn’t it? I was rather hoping that, being written by a woman and with a woman like that on the cover, this was going to be a good, maybe feminist, take on the old pulps: a good adventure with a strong, doughty female character as the lead. After the first two book club books – Dust and The Dispossessed – I was hoping that this book would be a bit more plot-heavy, a bit more adventure-y, a bit more… classic SF, I guess.

I was disappointed.

Some spoilers ahead.

I was disappointed from the outset, because the lead character – Athena Hera Sinistra – seems rather too preoccupied with her body, and especially her boobs. Now I have no problem with characters being concerned with body image; it’s an entirely appropriate subject matter to be dealt with. But this novel is written in the first person, and I found Sinistra’s discussion of her own body rather too much like what might come from a fairly juvenile male writer; it felt uncomfortably like she was objectifying herself, and not in an ironic way. Sinistra disappointed for most of the novel, frankly. She had the makings of a very interesting character: headstrong, with a difficult family life, some awesomely non-stereotypical skills, and a habit of kicking men in the balls. But… but. She suffered from a rather egregious problem, which was not really her fault: poor writing. She just was not believable. What could have been entertaining snark fell flat; what could have been an ironic take on the adventuring spacefarer that I was anticipating fell flat; what could have been a fascinating look at a strong woman in a man’s world just got boring. And the other characters suffered from the same problem; they were far too 2D for the book to be engaging.*

Despite the book being set some fuzzy many years in the future, the world is indeed still a man’s world – even more than it is today. That’s a little disappointing, and it’s not actually explained very well why that should be the case. And this was another aspect that was disappointing: the world-building. The small amount of history that is dished out over the course of the entire novel is really quite fascinating, and it was one of my favourite parts; I would probably read the book about her posited 21st/22nd century. But the world as it exists in this novel… doesn’t get fleshed out enough. The world of the darkship thieves – where Athena finds herself for a while – is an interesting contrast to Earth, both in the novel and today, but it too isn’t fleshed out very much. Coming after The Dispossessed I was perhaps always going to be let down by the lack of politics, but there’s little explanation at all for how the place manages to exist, and less about why it exists as it does.

I was disappointed by the plot, and that’s really what makes me sad. I could handle the characters being a bit flat, and I could handle skimpy world-building, if only the plot had zinged along at an exciting pace and had really great climaxes, reveals, and drama. But it didn’t. It’s not that the plot dragged; its problem was quite the opposite. Events happened at such a dizzying pace, in some sections, that you barely had time to draw breath – but they weren’t events that should have happened that quickly. I can understand a battle, or a series of decisions, happening at a breathtaking pace – if they’re well-written. Here, they were often events that would have been better off either being given very little space and therefore importance, or attended to with more leisurely writing and attention to detail. Rather than feeling absorbed by the plot and borne along by it, I felt thrown around and sometimes thrown out altogether. It left me disgruntled. And the twist at the end, about what Athena is? I saw it coming way too early. I don’t usually pick twists, and I like it that way: I enjoy being surprised by the author. So that the bid ta-da was not so big saddened me all over again.

Finally, I was disappointed by the romance. If the romance had had any sizzle, if there had been any genuine suggestion that there would not be romance and then it happened in a really awesome way, I would have been able to regard the story with some fondness. But it was obvious from the get-go that the characters were going to get it on… and then they finally did, but there were no fireworks, and no passion; it wasn’t even one of those delightful feelings-creeping-up-on-you scenarios. In a word: boring.

I was disappointed to be so disappointed. I really, really wanted to like this book. Of course, I’ve loved the first two books of the Book Club where many people have loathed both, so it will be fun to be the disgruntled one for a change…

This may be one of the snarkiest reviews I have ever written. I did indeed finish the book, because I was really hoping it would redeem itself. It didn’t. I actually skim-read the final hundred pages or so…

* Yes, that’s right people; I just totally dissed a book on account of the characters being too 2D. I know! Perhaps I am finally getting more sophisticated! … keep reading…