Book Reviews, June 2012

The Pride of Chanur, by C. J. Cherryh.  ☼☼☼.  Human first contact with aliens from the perspective of the aliens.  I really appreciated getting to watch from that perspective.  All too often the human is the main character in this situation, and he serves as the audience stand-in and spends most of the time confusedly asking tiresome questions and making condescending observations about how savage the aliens are, etc, etc.

However, as it is told from the alien’s view, certain things are not explained to us because the aliens take the knowledge for grated.  This is the difference between, say, writing “She opened the door,” and “She grasped the round doorknob, turning it until the latch retracted and allowed the door to swing freely on its hinges.”  The Pride of Chanur takes the former track every time, which means that I didn’t get any good explanations about how the ship’s electronics and propulsion worked.  As a result, the scenes involving the ship were pretty confusing.  That bothered me enough to bump the rating from four stars to three.

Deathless, by Catherynne Valente.  ☼☼☼.  I think Deathless would have made more sense if I’d come to it with a background in Russian folklore and mythology.  As I did not, I was never sure where the story was going (a little of never sure is nice and exciting; a lot of never sure is confusing).  I did like seeing the old stories play out against the background of communist Russia, though.

Redshirts, by John Scalzi.  ☼☼☼☼.  I posted a longer review in a separate entry, but it went down its own rabbit hole.  Which is fitting, I’ll admit, but not particularly helpful.  So, if there is an ideal audience for Redshirts, I’d say that it can be found in the intersection of people who like Star Trek: TOS and people who like Community.  Star Trek, because you’ll recognize the tropes.  Community, because that means that you’ve got a tolerance for meta.

The Serpent Sea, by Martha Wells.  ☼☼☼☼.  I liked it slightly less than I did The Cloud Roads, but not enough that I wouldn’t read any additional sequels.

Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein.  ☼☼☼.  I listened to it on audiobook, which wasn’t that great.  The main narrator paused in odd places, and occasionally there were clips of someone else reading a sentence or a phrase (which the first narrator messed up and wasn’t around to correct?).

Starship Troopers itself was sprawling.  It opened on a horrible scene, filled with troopers in mechanical suits lobbing ordinance around an alien city.  Objective: cause as much destruction as possible.  The main character quite enjoyed the demolition.

Then the narrative pulled back.  It bogged down in minutiae.  It covered the rank and workings of the military in loving detail.  Occasionally there would be a near-monologue about philosophy or warfare or history (I’m a visual person, so an audiobook was not the best way for me to absorb something that dense).  There wasn’t really a plot—at least, not in a form as I’d recognize it, with rising action and falling action and a character with a driving goal.  I got the sense that war was hell, yes, but only due to fear of injury and death.  Not because any of the characters had reservations about blowing away other sentient creatures. 

I was reminded of why I’m not too keen on reading Heinlein.

However, I do not regret finishing the novel, if only because it allowed me to see how books like Ender’s Game and Old Man’s War built off of these ideas.

Treason’s Shore, by Sherwood Smith.  ☼☼☼☼.  Last book in the Inda series.  Just as good as the others.  I’m going to have to look into her other series, because I’m pretty sure I’ll like those, too.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard.  ☼☼☼☼.  I thought this book would be all flippant humor and wacky, fish-out-of-water set-ups with no underlying substance.  Happily, I was wrong.  There are brilliant flashes of description and deft characterization. 

The setting and the writing style are…bizarre.  There’s a bit of steampunk, some Wild West, a dash of Skullcrusher Mountain, and over it all a patina of those cartoons where some poor lass is strapped to train tracks while a smirking villain in a top hat looks on. 

Also, there’s something inexpressibly endearing about how easily Cabal dishes out sarcasm, yet fails to acknowledge (or realize) when someone else uses it on him.

I’m definitely reading the sequel.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  ☼☼☼☼.  I’m glad I watched the movie first, because I was completely immersed in it.  I sobbed and gasped my way through.  I doubt the novel could have topped that.  However, it did fill in a lot of details that I was missing, so that was nice.