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review 2017-08-22 17:40
Brothers in Arms / Lois McMaster Bujold
Brothers in Arms - Lois McMaster Bujold,Grover Gardner

If his enemies would just leave him alone, Miles Vorkosigan (alias Admiral Naismith) decided bitterly, the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet would collapse all on its own. But his enemies were plotting a more deadly fall.

For some unexplained reason the Dendarii payroll is missing and the orders from the Barrayaran Imperial Command are being delayed by Miles's superior, Captain Galeni. What connects the impeccable insufferable Captain Galeni and the Komarran rebel expatriates on Earth anyway? But the most deadly question of all before Miles is more personal: are Miles's two identities, Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii and Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar, splitting apart along the lines of his divided loyalties? And who is trying to assassinate which version of him?

 

As per usual, Miles Vorkosigan creates a stir wherever he goes. After figuratively hitting a wasp nest with a stick and annoying the Cetagandians, he hares off to old Earth to get his crew healthy and his ships fixed. Of course, things go horribly awry and lots of intrigue & adventure follows.

Somehow, for me, even though there are lots of action sequences, these books are more about the relationships. He has to balance his two identities as Lord Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith, each with their own responsibilities. He has his cousin Ivan to consider, as Ivan is also stationed on Earth. Plus Miles makes friendships & alliances wherever he goes—and they complicate an already intricate life. Finally there’s the question of whether he will ever get a personal life and find someone to love him as Miles, regardless of which identity he’s currently living in.

Plenty of adventure here for those who like such things, and lots of character development for me. Another successful installment in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan.

Book 261 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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text 2017-08-17 01:19
no spoons
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.

I'd be totally OK if this book felt less currently relevant.

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review 2017-08-15 19:46
Imago / Octavia Butler
Imago - Octavia E. Butler

In the third book of her Xenogenesis series, Octavia Butler gives us the alien’s perspective.  It makes the Oankali marginally less creepy, but only a tiny bit.  Butler excels at creating truly alien life forms, with wildly different forms of reproduction.

 

The Oankali having stinging cells and tentacles, giving them some resemblance to jellyfish (Cniderians) in our world, but they are upright walking, hand-and-arm-possessing, intelligent life forms.  And, it turns out, they have a three stage metamorphosis like Earth’s insects do.  This installment follows that mysterious third sex, the Ooloi, as one of Lilith’s children matures sexually into the adult form (hence the title, Imago).

 

In the first book, the Oankali have rescued the small remainder of humanity from a disaster of their own creation and have begun combining the two species.  That’s what the Ooankali do and they consider it their payment for their rescue services, but that’s not what it looks like or feels like to humans.  Lilith gradually becomes convinced that she won’t be allowed to live as human and reluctantly gets involved with the aliens, although it is against her true wishes.

 

In the second book, we follow Lilith’s construct child, Akin, who actually has five parents and who understands the relationship between the two species better than either the humans or the Oankali.  He sees the basic incompatibility between the two species but also how they can also become compatible.  Seemingly a paradox, which Akin reveals as a prejudice of the Oankali against humanity—we’ve always known that humans are prejudiced against the aliens.

 

This third installment reveals just how much the Oankali need and long for relationships with humans.  To this point, they have seemed very unemotional, almost clinical, in their desire to revitalize their own DNA through incorporation of the human genome.  Jodahs, who is metamorphosing into one of the mysterious Ooloi, shows us the depth of feeling, the intense sexual need, and indeed the pain of separation that we have been missing so far in the story.

 

Despite gaining understanding, the whole sexual system of the Oankali feels deeply creepy.  The human male and female in the sexual constellation experience repulsion when they touch one another directly, but when joined by an Ooloi, experience intense sexual pleasure.  Pheromones by the Ooloi make the situation addictive—being apart from one’s group becomes torment.

 

Butler is skillful in her refusal to “pick a side.”  She provides logical reasons for the aliens’ behaviour and points out both the logical and totally illogical responses of humanity.  She explores co-operation, coercion, limited choice, and unequal power without making it obvious which species she favours.

 

In some ways, this series makes me think of Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in that humanity is being absorbed into a genetic continuum, but likely won’t survive on its own ever again.  Do we mourn the loss or celebrate what survives?

 

Book 260 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-08-13 18:36
"Renegade: Spiral Wars, Book 1" by Joel Shepherd
Renegade (The Spiral Wars) (Volume 1) - Joel Shepherd

I finally reached the point where I'd read all six of Joel Shepherd's excellent Cassandra Kresnov books and I found that I missed his widing ranging imagination, his sharp-edged politics and his characters: strong, passionate, sometimes flawed but always believable.

 

So I went looking to see what else he'd written and found the Spiral Wars series (four books so far)

 

When I read the blurb, I hesitated:

"A thousand years after Earth was destroyed in an unprovoked attack, humanity has emerged victorious from a series of terrible wars to assure its place in the galaxy. But during celebrations on humanity’s new Homeworld, the legendary Captain Pantillo of the battle carrier Phoenix is court-martialed then killed, and his deputy, Lieutenant Commander Erik Debogande, the heir to humanity’s most powerful industrial family, is framed with his murder. Assisted by Phoenix’s marine commander Trace Thakur, Erik and Phoenix are forced to go on the run, as they seek to unravel the conspiracy behind their Captain’s demise, pursued to the death by their own Fleet. "

Long timescales like this often make it hard for me to connect with the action. The politics sounded triumphalist and the the interstellar distances involved are huge. I wondered how Joel Shepherd would keep the intimacy and intensity that was a strength of the Cassandra Kresnov series in an undertaking like this.

 

The answer, of course, was through the strength of his character development. It turned out that "Renegade", the first Spiral Wars book, was just as intense as his Kresnov books but it was also refreshingly different in scale and in focus.

 

So what's good about it?

 

This is a great example of what Space Opera can be when the author has really thought through the worlds, the species and the history involved and yet never resorts to info-dumps but has the confidence and the control to reveal the intricacies of this universe a little at a time, through the experiences of the characters, as needed to make sense of the action. Every good space opera needs lots of action, lots of technology, lots of weapons, lots of culture clashes and complex political intrigue and lots of desperate, how-can-they-possibly-get-out-of-this? moments. Joel Shepherd delivers on all these things with flair and originality and at a pace the made the 400+ pages fly by.

 

The intensity of the book comes mainly from the characters. There are a lot of them but they are presented clearly and without confusion. They're also not static. They come with backstories that are artfully revealed. They have distinct personalities and ethics and goals. They are changed by the decisions they make and the experiences they have. This increases the emotional impact of the book. It makes you care who lives and dies. It goes beyond the "only you can save the galaxy" hero quest into something personal and therefore much more real.

 

Two characters in particular made the book for me. The first is Trace Thakur. She leads the Marines on the Pheonix but she is a legend throughout the Corps. She comes from a warrior cult with strong ethics around service. She is strong, experienced, lethal and much loved by her people. There is more to her than just being a warrior. Her mission is driven by her personal interpretation of honour and justice rather than by her instructions from her superiors. She is the second in command, yet she has far more leadership and combat experience than Erik Debogande, until recently a newly minted Lieutenant Commander who many believed was appointed because of his family connections and who is now acting-Captain. The dynamic between Thakur and Debogande is tense and plausible. Watching Erik struggling to rise to the challenge of being in command of the Pheonix is one of the best things in the book.

 

Of course, I also loved the depressingly plausible politics, the diversity of the races involved and the hints of important things being hidden by the powerful that need to be uncovered by the brave.

 

I'm hooked now. I'm already looking forward to the rest of the series.

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text 2017-08-11 15:00
Studying past cultures
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.

One of the things I always find most interesting in far future (or at least far removed from current society and memory) stories is how they interpret fragments of the past.  The lens through which individuals look at artifacts is always colored by their current, something we do ourselves when looking at the past.

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