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review 2017-05-01 01:23
Star Surgeon by James White
Star Surgeon - James White

Star Surgeon starts off with Conway treating an alien of a sort he’s never seen or heard of before. It turns out that his newest patient’s species is seen as somewhat godlike by those aliens that know of them. They’re purported to be immortal, and they have a habit of gradually making themselves the supreme ruler of a world, solving its problems (I was left with so many questions), and then leaving. They are always accompanied by a companion of a different species.

Conway’s efforts to treat his patient, Lonvellin, impress it so much that it later insists he help it and the Monitor Corps with a problem it’s having on the planet Etla, which is part of a larger Empire made up of several planets. Etla used to have a thriving population before it was hit by one horrible illness after another. To make matters worse, Etla’s natives are deeply suspicious of beings that look different from them, so they refuse to accept help from anyone except the Empire’s Imperial Representative, who rarely stops by. Earth humans and Etlans just happen to look very much alike, so Conway and the Monitor Corpsmen are able to sneak in, assess the situation, and try to help. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse than anyone realizes and deteriorates to such a degree that Sector General finds itself caught up in an interstellar war.

I think this is my second full-length Sector General novel, although I’ve read a bunch of Sector General short stories. So far it looks like one of the nice things about the full-length novels is that they gave the author the time and space to show readers things that weren’t directly related to solving medical mysteries. Star Surgeon shows readers one of Sector General’s recreational areas (as Conway tries to convince Murchison to take their relationship from “friends, sort of” to “dating and maybe even having sex”), and I learned that there are apparently 218 human (or at least DBDG) women at Sector General, not that we ever learn the names of any of them besides Murchison.

Unfortunately, Star Surgeon turned out to be less focused on medical mysteries and more of a war book. Lonvellin’s medical issues were dealt with fairly quickly, and Etla’s problems were revealed to be less medical and more political (and absolutely horrifying). That left the interstellar war, with Sector General at its heart.

This book’s tone and message reminded me strongly of the story “Accident,” available in the Sector General omnibus Alien Emergencies. The specifics of how Sector General was evacuated were fascinating - in addition to concerns about moving sick or injured patients, every species’ general physical needs (gravity, atmosphere, temperature, and more) also had to be taken into account.

Unfortunately, Sector General’s evacuation and the events that happened afterward were also a bit emotionally draining. Sector General was intended to be a hospital capable of catering to any and every alien species. The evacuation and Sector General’s transformation into “what amounted to a heavily armed military base” (104) were both painful.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder about the economics of the Sector General universe. Money still seems to exist and be necessary, because it took great gobs of money to build Sector General in the first place. The damage Sector General sustained during the battle and the hospital’s evacuation and repurposing should probably have financially wrecked it. And yet it apparently recovered just fine, because there are many Sector General stories and books that come after this one.

As much as I like the idea behind the Sector General series, the books and stories have several recurring problems. One of those problems kept rearing its ugly head in Star Surgeon: sexism. Since the series is usually careful not to assign a gender to any of its aliens, except in one instance where a particular alien species cycles through genders during the course of its life, that means that most of the more blatant sexism involves Murchison, the series’ only named human woman (that I know of).

If Murchison ever appeared on-page without some mention of her appealing physical form or features, it was rare. Also, just like in Star Healer, Murchison requested to be allowed to use an educator tape, only to be shot down by O’Mara.

“‘As for the girls [he means the nurses],’ [O’Mara] went on, a sardonic edge in his voice, ‘you have noticed by this time that the female Earth-human DBDG has a rather peculiar mind. One of its peculiarities is a deep, sex-based mental fastidiousness. No matter what they say they will not, repeat not, allow alien beings to apparently take over their pretty little brains. If such should happen, severe mental damage would result.’”  (132)

And then there was this, said by Murchison to Conway:

“‘I...I asked him to give me [an educator tape], earlier, to help you out. But he said no because…’ She hesitated, and looked away. ‘...because he said girls are very choosey who they let take possession of them. Their minds, I mean…’” (141)

Am I the only one who thinks that explanation sounds uncomfortably sexual? At any rate, while I’m thankful that at least one Sector General fix fic exists, it doesn’t stop the burst of anger I feel whenever I come across things like this in the original books and stories.

Well, even though I hate the series’ sexism, I love its “doctors in space” focus. Unfortunately, this particular book was grimmer and had less in the way of medical mysteries than I preferred. It wasn’t a bad entry in the series, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for when I started reading.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-02-12 01:38
Otters in Space by Mary E. Lowd
Otters In Space: The Search for Cat Havana - Doc Marcus,Mary E Lowd

This is set sometime in the future. Humans have long since abandoned Earth. The dogs and cats they left behind eventually attained sentience and built their own societies in and around humanity’s ruins. They have jobs, government, cars, phones - basically, their lives look a lot like ours today.

Unfortunately for cats, this is largely a dog’s world. Cats are considered second-class citizens and have to struggle to get decent-paying jobs. Kipper, the book’s main character, doesn’t really expect that things will ever get better, but she tries to support her sister Petra’s political aspirations anyway. Then Kipper and Petra learn about a possible secret cat utopia in Ecuador, which they dub “Cat Havana” (never mind that Havana isn’t in Ecuador). After Petra suddenly disappears, apparently to go see Cat Havana for herself, Kipper decides to join her.

I bought this in an effort to scratch my post-Zootopia itch. The sci-fi aspects mentioned on the product page intrigued me, and it had several positive reviews, but the one negative review I came across made me wary. Still, it was cheap, so I bought it anyway.

The world-building was intriguing, but also sloppy and filled with holes. I found it difficult to believe that every last human had chosen to leave Earth behind, or that this would even be possible (imagine how much time and money it would have taken, and how many spaceships). How did the various animal species become sentient? Which species were sentient? Early on, I assumed that only cats, dogs, and otters were sentient. Dogs and cats lived on Earth, and otters had managed to establish themselves in space. However, once Kipper finally made it to the space station, there were mentions of “immigrant squirrels” and even a chef who happened to be an octopus. Also, since sentience hadn’t changed species’ sizes (most dogs towered over cats), I found myself wondering if their lifespans were the same too.

Despite my issues with it, I enjoyed the world of this book. There were indications that cat and dog interactions could be fairly complex, I was very intrigued by the brief description of octopus society, and I wanted to know more about otter life on the space station. The otter space ship that Kipper ended up on was also pretty cool.

That said, this book could have used a better editor. Although I didn’t notice any misspellings, I did spot several misused apostrophes and commas, as well as a few incorrect phrases. A few examples:

“One of the Chihuahua's from Kipper's team came up to her and shook her paws, speaking a few indecipherable words.” (53)

“Chihuahua’s” shouldn’t have an apostrophe.

“However, the heart of the platform was the open, landing area in the center for the climbers -- the elevator cars.” (60)

There shouldn't be a comma between "open" and "landing."

“They looked at her, and they held their gaze longer than she expected.” (93)

I’m pretty sure that should be “they held her gaze.”

There were also lots of instances of stuff that should have been streamlined prior to publication. Here’s a good example:

“There were otters occupying some of the other beds, but none of them had noticed her yet. Well, she was sure they knew she was there. But none of them had noticed she was awake.” (111)

Why not just say “but none of them had noticed she was awake yet” and do away with the rest?

The story’s pacing wasn't very good, and Kipper’s shifting and easy-to-forget goals probably didn’t help. Petra was supposedly the impetuous one, and yet Kipper was the one who decided to go all the way to Ecuador with only a single note as evidence that Petra had gone there. She soon realized that Petra probably hadn’t made it to Ecuador yet but went into space anyway, even though her primary goal had been finding her sister. Once she was on the space station, her goal shifted to finding Cat Havana, even though that potentially meant she’d never see her brother and sister again.

There was too much that didn’t make sense. Although Trudith was one of my favorite characters (second only to Emily the octopus), it boggled my mind that anyone thought it was a good idea to hire a protective dog like her to kill somebody, especially considering her tendency to follow anyone’s firmly stated orders. Then there was the enormous plot hole involving the note that inspired Kipper to go to Ecuador in the first place. I suppose it might have been part of the setup for the sequel, except, if that had been the case, I’d have expected Kipper to wonder about that detail more.

All in all, this turned out to be kind of disappointing. I have a couple of the author’s other works on my Nook and am still hopeful that one of them might be better, but it’ll probably be a while before I give them a shot.

 

Rating Note:

 

If it hadn't been for the plot hole introduced at the very end of the book, I might have given this 2 stars. There was something endearing about the world and characters, despite the story's many, many issues.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-02-11 22:26
Reading progress update: I've read 167 out of 167 pages.
Otters In Space: The Search for Cat Havana - Doc Marcus,Mary E Lowd

This had some intriguing, if incredibly sloppy, world-building that fed a little of my post-Zootopia craving. However, then a sentence near the end introduced a great big plot hole. Ugh.

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review 2017-01-29 03:41
Diversified Interests
Cryoburn - Lois McMaster Bujold

I knew this wasn't the first book in the series, but I decided to check it out from the library and listen to it anyway. Very enjoyable. Miles is an appealing lead character. I loved that Miles isn't your typical hero as far as looks. He's not very tall and he has medical issues that have affected his looks. It doesn't matter at all, because he has presence. And I love a smart guy who's solving mysteries. Miles is more or less a space detective. I like detective in any setting, but it was fun to read a science fiction book with detectives in it. I read this while I was working on my final painting for my class, and it more than kept me company. The narrator was good, he had a pleasant voice, sort of like an older English butler. It worked for me.

The story involves corporate corruption and cryostasis. Quite a combination. I liked how multicultural the cast of characters were. It sort of reminded me of how in Firefly, the Chinese culture has dominated and its reflected in the dialogue and names of people. In this case, there is a good mix of various Asian cultures, along with other ethnicities. There is plenty of suspense, but a lot of wry humor, which is always welcome. It didn't mess things up for me that I hadn't read the first book. Instead I am intrigued to read about Miles' parents Aral and Cordelia, and fortunately I do have that book.

I know I'm not giving this book justice in this review. My brain is pretty fried, so this will have to do.

I recommend this.

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review 2016-12-13 20:00
Amish Vampires In Space
Amish Vampires in Space - Kerry Nietz

When I first heard about Amish Vampires in Space I was sure it was supposed to be some kind of a spoof. Quickly, I found out that in fact it was a serious science fiction novel concerning Amish, vampires and space.

Immediately my expectations were much higher, to have this kind of story and not mean it as a spoof, it was supposed to be really good. A novel that was just okay wouldn't do. So maybe I'm just judging this novel too harsh.

Although I still don't really understand why the Amish joined the space ship and the vampires seem at first quite random, it was an okay book. It was indeed what it promised: Amish Vampires in Space. What it didn't do was add something extra to it. It was alright when I was reading it but I didn't feel anything for either the story or the characters.

Additionally there were some weird things. For example, at some point an Amish woman wonders why her husband hasn't called her, while she has never used a phone herself. This seems a weird thought under those conditions. There were some more of these things and also the end, I somehow saw it coming...

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