I'm enjoying this book. I like the way the people are drawn and the tensions are managed and old assumptions are challenged and discarded. I can see and understand the attraction between January and Gus. So, of course they're going to have sex and of course the sex can't just be an off-camera event but these weren't the sex scenes I was expecting.
Up to now, the book has sidestepped clichés and toyed with tropes with skill and a little humour, keeping the focus on making January and Gus real. Yet the sex scenes don't seem real at all. They lack the focus of previous scenes. They're a muddle of sanitised descriptions of who does what to whom, hyperbolic descriptions of how good it all felt, and a few muttered attempts at humour.
Although the first sex scene goes on for some time, all I got was euphemisms that were so soft-focus that the sex wasn't really described and yet I was supposed to accept that two people, having sex with each other for the first time manage a flawless choreography with no communication and rapidly achieve a level of mutual satisfaction that is explosive, exhausting.
All those words added up to was a generic description of two beautiful, highly aroused people having frantic but deeply satisfying sex. Nothing in the scene links specifically to the characters in the book. You could drop this scene into another novel and only have to edit the names.
Earlier in the book, the two writers discuss how you make things real by paying attention to the small details that matter to people: how they dress, what they're anxious about, what unconscious ticks they have and so on. None of that thinking translated into the scene. January had neither anxiety or curiosity. There was no uncertainty, no hesitation, no real interaction beyond two bodies getting off in perfect soft-focus harmony.
This was very disappointing. Write a sex scene or write, 'the sex was great' and leave it at that but don't just drop in a soft porn photomontage that would work well if you never saw the participants faces.
I admit I'm biased, but I loved these two short stories as much now as I did when I was a little kid just discovering Tolkien. I feel as though they represent both his love of the heroic and the mysteriously romantic nature seen in LotR, but also his affectionately scathing take on human nature seen in The Hobbit. With SoWM illustrating the first and FGoH the second. I think these would be a good intro to Tolkien for anyone hesitant to make the larger commitment to his novels.
Paperback version, found at my public library's Friends of the Library sale.
Finally, Murderbot gets the full-length novel that it and we deserve. Thank you, Martha Wells. I've loved the other episodes in the Murderbot Diaries but I was a little frustrated at having them drip-fed to me in what seemed to me to be a novel broken into novellas for no good reason.
I preordered the audiobook version of 'Network Effect' and dived into it as soon as it arrived in my audiobook queue. After four hours of immersion in Murderbot's world, this was my reaction:
This is a wonderful ride. MurderBot remains its compelling self but being freed from the novella format means that the plot structure is more complicated and the puzzle that needs to be solved has more twists in it.
Reading 'Network Effect' is like falling through a cascade of action sequences while working on a big picture to make sense of everything. There's never a dull moment and it took some self-control for me to do anything else today.'
I managed to pace myself and consumed the book over three days rather than one. The mystery continued to become more complex and the actions scenes continued to pile on and they were all fun and very well done but what I liked most about the book was the way in which Murderbot developed.
Murderbot isn't, doesn't want to be and can't become, human. Humans are messy and often reckless, shouldn't be trusted with weapons, are inappropriately optimistic for creatures that are both fragile and slow. Nevertheless, Murderbot is attached to its humans pretty much in the way you or I might be attached to our Labradors.
So, if Murderbot is going to continue to associate with humans and commit itself to protecting some of them, but isn't, doesn't want to be and can't become human, how does it develop to become more than a SecUnit that's hacked its governor unit so it can spend more time watching TV?
Martha Wells' answer to that is inspired.
Firstly she lets Murderbot itself slowly figure out that that is a question that deserves to be answered. Then she builds a plot that brings Murderbot back into contact with ART, the sarcastic, extremely bright, apparently working on covert missions transport ship that sheltered Murderbot earlier. Except this time Murderbot has to rescue both ART and ART's humans. Seeing the relationship between ART and its humans gives Murderbot a lot to think about. Creating a 2.0 copy of himself, for reasons I won't share here, and using his memories to persuade another SecUnit to hack its own governor unit, again help Murdrbot to reflect on its identity.
Then the Network Effect kicks in: we have multiple non-human intelligences connected to each other making Murderbot's situation less unique while making his value higher and pushing him to define who he is and what he wants to do next.
It's beautifully done. I had an exciting ride, a lot of action, good mystery and I got to watch Murderbot grow up.
I'll be back for more as soon as it's available.
I think the audiobook is quite well done, it even manages not to make Murderbot sound definitively male or female. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.
One of the joys of this book are the way the two writers trade pen sketches. Here's one where Gus, having asked what 'baby January' was like and having been told, 'She was a lot' spontaneously spins this:
'Let me guess. Loud. Precocious. Room full of books organised in a way that only you understood. Close with your family and a couple of tight-knit friends, all of who you probably still talk to regularly, but casual friends with anyone else with a pulse. A secret over-achiever who had to be the best at something, even if no one else knew. Oh and prone to juggling or tap dancing for attention in any crowd.'
I can hear the joy and the danger in that kind of statement, where things come out of your mouth unedited, partly playful, partly true, partly catching you by surprise even as you hear yourself say them. It sparkles. Then January's response grounds it, without rebutting it, making it clear that words have edges and need to be thrown with care.
I also like how Emily Henry plays with the form while still delivering something satisfying. You know how there's likely to be a chapter in a romance book where the girl dreams of the boy or vis versa and suddenly understands the depth of their attraction? Well, this book has that chapter. The fun thing is that it's called 'The Dream' and it's one sentence long.
'I dreamed about Gus Everett and woke up needing a shower.'
That made me laugh.