Book: Victory Conditions

I blogged about a previous volume in this series, Engaging the Enemy, and while I had complaints, I rated it a 4, because I will continue to go out and look for books by this particular author. Elizabeth Moon does good characterizations and her plot lines are generally interesting enough. I do not find her battle scenes all that engaging or well described. If you’re looking for David Weber style battle scenes, these don’t match up.

Nonetheless, as I said last time, I have kept on reading the series, and while Elizabeth Moon is not on my top tier list (gotta have everything they write, NOW!), her name is a pretty good one to get me reading.

[Spoiler alert]

I found the ending of this book a bit anticlimactic. The final battle is not the best of the lot. I could summarize it as “there was a lot of shooting in space and then the good guys won.” The ending seems almost abrupt, one in which we’re told what happens to everyone sort of like those notes just before film credits telling you where each character ended up.

[/spoiler]

OK, so I will grab the next book by Moon anyhow, though this series is finished. I still rate the series a 4, but this final book is, I think, the least engaging of the series.

Book: Patrimony

This is another Pip & Flinx adventure. I have to confess that while I love Alan Dean Foster, who is one of those authors I look for on most trips to the library and every trip to the bookstore, I am getting a little overdosed on these books. The problem is that we have had too many of them in which Flinx searches for his father, tries to learn about his powers, and deals with headaches. They are beginning to seem a bit repetitive. On to the next item I say!

Well, this book did provide some answers, though I’m not going to say anything to give them away. At the same time, it bears a great deal of similarity to previous books. I wasn’t that excited about the plot itself. I do enjoy Foster’s relaxed way of presenting a new culture, and I enjoyed both planet and culture as described in this particular book. That part will keep me coming back to Flinx and to the Humanx Commonwealth in other forms as well.

I rate this a 3 by itself, but would raise that to a 4 because of its relatives.

Book: Deluge

This is the third volume of the Twins of Petaybee series.

To let you know how I felt about the book, let me quote what I said about Maelstrom, the second in the series:

It is lighter than the Dragonrider series, and I don’t find the cultural background anywhere near as interesting, but the characters are engaging, and the story is fun. That’s a lot to recommend a book, especially since I look for books to read when my mind wants to rest rather than be challenged. I’m glad there are books that fit the bill.

As I read that now, more than a year after I wrote it, I can only nod my head. That is exactly how I felt reading this volume. It’s why I keep on reading authors like McCaffrey. She can’t always be writing Dragonriders books after all, and once one has done a series like that, everything else is going to look just a bit pale beside it. But this whole series is good fun, even though it’s not all that deep.

I intend to keep reading both authors.

Book: Paradise

I’ve been reading a lot of Mike Resnick’s work lately, especially after encountering his short story Kirinyaga, and then the book built from a number of short stories set in that world. He’s always an exceptional storyteller.

With that, I picked up Paradise, currently it appears only available used. I got my copy from my local public library, on which let me make a comment. Support your public library. It’s a wonderful institution.

Now Paradise is not a book with a theme I would normally enjoy. But this book is interesting and thoughtful and provides a variety of characters to love or hate, or more likely feel ambivalent about. (Don’t even think of mentioning the preposition at the end of a sentence!)

The lead character is a writer who writes first about the people who have been involved with the early years of human contact on the planet Peponi, which means Paradise in a local language. One thing leads to another until he finally visits the planet he has been writing about and gets a direct view.

The problems frequently reflect those of colonialism here on earth. I’d like to think we’d have better sense by the time, if ever, that we contact other sentient species on other worlds. Realistically, that’s probably not a very realistic hope. Even more, just what would “better sense” be in this context? There’s a great deal of room for wondering just exactly what each person should have done in this story. Certainly there are many specific things that are either definitely bad or definitely good.

But even assuming that the exploiters could be kept off a world like this, what would happen with the philanthropists? One imagines that perhaps a Star Trek style non-interference directive (obviously better defined and better enforced than in the series) might be the only answer. No two species would actually meet until each had developed a certain level of technology. But thinking about that leads me to many questionable situations as well.

Moralizing aside, or perhaps because of it, I really enjoyed watching the various characters work through their situations. Each is constrained by his or her own background and situation, and often there are not nearly as many choices as the outsider, such as a reader might think.

Now don’t get the idea that this story is made up of philosophizing and moralizing. The story is well told and well worth reading for fun as well as for thinking. Resnick sneaks the thinking into the cracks and you get caught up asking yourself questions, or at least I do, but perhaps I’m strange.

I strongly recommend this book whether you have to order it used or find it at your public library. Get a copy and enjoy!

Book: Kirinyaga

I’ve already written about two of the stories that form a part of this book, and I’ve also linked to what I consider an excellent review, except that it gives a bit much of the story away for my taste. But I want to make a couple of additional comments because this book is really exceptional.

I have stated before that I don’t really have standards for some kind of universal “good” or “bad” literature. Rather, there is literature that I like and some that I don’t. I’m quite happy with this being subjective. One of the things I like in literature is engaging characters, folks that you actually care about. If it doesn’t matter when a character dies, or narrowly escapes death, then I’m probably not enjoying the book very much.

There are quite a number of engaging characters in literature, and most of them are characters that I like. There’s something about them that attracts me. But there’s something special about presenting a character that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like and making me root for him as the story goes on.

That’s the case with Koriba, the mundumugu (witch doctor) who serves as the repository for tribal knowledge and tradition on the terraformed world of Kirinyaga. He is, in fact, everything I wouldn’t like in reality. I personally embrace the advance of technology, and am at worst amused by the social changes that tend to go with it. I object strongly when someone can’t pursue their goals and dreams because of tradition. I’m ready to toss out the tradition and let people do what they can.

Koriba is in love with a set of traditions, and wants to freeze everything at that point, and yet he is so clear about his desires, and expresses himself so well, that I found myself in great sympathy with him, all the while realizing that if I were encountering him in real life, I would almost certainly be one of his enemies.

I could use every story in this book as the basis for teaching and discussing some concept or another. The story overall points to stress points in the way we handle change and the interaction of very different cultures. The world is full of less extreme examples, but sometimes it takes the extremes to get us thinking.

This book is certainly deserving of all the awards it has received, and I rate it a 5 myself.

Book: Will the Last Person to Leave the Planet Please Shut Off the Sun

This is a lovely collection of 28 short stories by Mike Resnick. I blogged previously about getting the inspiration for a devotional from one of them, but I’ve now finished the whole collection. It’s available in a Kindle edition, hard cover, and paperback.

My favorites were <em>Kirinyaga</em>, <em>For I Have Touched the Sky</em>, and <em>Watching Marcia</em>.   That’s a weird selection, I suspect, but the first two I find particularly challenging.  The concept is simple, but it has very profound implications.  It sets me to thinking what the universe they are set in would be like and how well it would work.

Novels are great, but short story collections work so well as bedtime reading.  I heartily recommend this one – numeric rating of 5.

Resnick Inspired Devotional

It is perhaps a bit humorous that my devotional this morning, Sticking with the Familiar was inspired by Michael Resnick’s short story “Over There” which I read just last night from his collection Will the Last Person to Leave the Planet Please Shut Off the Sun?. The thought came to me how often we go with who we are and what we do even when all the indications are against it.

I like short stories, and Resnick has that wonderful quality of writing stories that I don’t entirely like, but are so good that I have to read anyhow. I’m not sure just how to express that properly. I felt that way before about his book A Hunger in the Soul, and he even dropped by to comment and explain, but the thing is there was nothing wrong with the book. In fact, it was superbly written as one would expect of Mike Resnick. Yet I really didn’t like the story.

In any case, there are any number of short stories in this book that annoy me while at the same time are really wonderful. That may indicate some sort of mental problem. The Kirniyaga stories, of which I’ve read two so far are no fun at all and yet superbly set and written. In case you’re wondering, I recommend this collection, even though it is only available used. There are plenty of used copies. Look one up.

Book: Previewing Genesis by Paul Chafe

Way back when I wrote a note on Destiny’s Forge by [tag]Paul Chafe[/tag], which I called (and still call) a great book. It has pretty much all the characteristics I like in a book. More recently, I posted a notice about Paul Chafe’s forthcoming book Genesis which will be released November 6th (according to Amazon.com). I said I looked forward to November with pleasure.

Well, I didn’t have to wait that long. I received a pre-release copy and permission to write about it, and so I have now read the new book. I still want a copy to sit on my shelves, but it’s nice to get the story ahead of time.

Unlike Destiny’s Forge, this book labors against some of my prejudices. I have found that I like relatively few books about the near future. I’m a bit wary of books or series that cover large periods of time, and I often avoid a new series until it’s either complete or well under way. None of these are absolutes, and this book had one major thing going for it–it’s written by Paul Chafe. It’s simple truth and not flattery to say that up to now I have loved everything he has written, and I think now I have read it all.

Now that I have read Genesis it goes back up near the top of my list. Truth be told, I had more fun in Destiny’s Forge simply because there are the battle scenes, more strategy, and an alien culture to develop. In Genesis we have humans, other humans, and yet more humans.

The scope is breathtaking, and the characters, whether you love or hate them, are inspiring. From a person involved in religion on a professional basis, as I am, the handling of a mass religious movement is excellent. As a student of history as well as somewhat of theology I’m well aware of how the pieces can be put together in odd ways, and the damage an unthinking, mass movement can cause.

Chafe uses that movement in interesting ways. I don’t want to hint at them, because I think the story reads better without anticipating some of the interesting corners that are turned as it develops.

I understand this will be a trilogy, and I’ll certainly be here for the whole ride. I have to say that I wonder how a trilogy can actually tell a story of the scope that is laid out by the first volume.

The style is excellent and very readable. It doesn’t have my favorite alien cultures or battle scenes, but still, I’m giving this a numerical rating of five. Y’all be sure and go out and buy one, or even pre-order on Amazon.com right now!

Book: Alpha

This book was a pleasant surprise. I’m normally annoyed by the huge possibilities that are ignored in stories about future AI or machine sentience. It seems to me to be the area in which near future science fiction does the worst job of projection.

In this case, however, [tag]Catherine Asaro[/tag] does a wonderful job of looking forward but still providing a comprehensible, easy to read, and entertaining tail. One can feel the possibility of a future like this. I hardly had to suspend disbelief at all.

Of course the actual possibilities are so varied that one can hardly predict anything, I think, but in this case, at least the story seems possible.

As for characters, I found them a little bit light, but nonetheless interesting. There was more attention paid to the future technology than to the future people. The story did have some less predictable twists. I’ll certainly pick up books by this author again.

I give it a numerical rating of 4 out of 5.

Book: Engaging the Enemy

Elizabeth Moon doesn’t fall into my top tier of gotta-read-everything authors, but she’s near the top of my second tier. I’ve been following the Vatta’s War series for some time, but as you can see, I’ve been following it a long ways off. There’s another book out that I haven’t read.

Having said all of that, I really do enjoy these books and generally get to them before too long. Kylara Vatta is a fairly convincing female lead character, and I’m a sucker for stories that involve decisive women. Kylara has plenty of doubts about herself, but when things get really tough, she does what needs to be done whether she’s sure of herself or not. Most of that uncertainty can be–and is–traced to her age and lack of experience.

In this book we see Kylara figuring out that there is a major attack going on, and that if the worlds don’t get together to deal with it, they will be at the mercy of the pirates. Somebody ought to do something, and whether that’s lucky for her or not, Kylara Vatta appears to be the one tagged with the mission.

There are plenty of surprises and some interesting new cultures in this one. I rate it a four on my numerical scale.