The Library of Babel: August 2002

This page contains the archived copies of book log entries for January of 2003.

Current Book Log

Return to Archive Index

January 11, 2003

The Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan. Book Ten of a projected aleph-nought in the Wheel of Time series.

It's a bad sign when I start complaining that a set of books seems padded. I read and enjoyed Infinite Jest, after all, a novel which features a hundred-odd pages of footnotes and ends in the middle. I have no qualms with big, thick books.

But somewhere between book four and here, Jordan slipped over a poorly-defined line. It may have come when he started selling the electronic publication rights to the Prologue separately (which the clever folks at Tor circumvented by posting the first chapter on their web site), and then produced an eighty-page Prologue with virtually no connection to the main story. That was sort of annoying.

The hell of it is, this is still a very readable book, though it's very much a middle book of a loooong series of books. You couldn't jump in at this point and expect to have Clue One about the story, but if you've been reading along, most of the same virtues are there. I didn't quite stay up late to read it, but I did put more time into reading it than I have with other recent books.

On the other hand, the same flaws are there, too, grown ever more grating through repetition. The whole weird BDSM thing involving frequent spankings of naked women is, quite frankly, getting to be a bit much, though most of the female characters are so annoying that it's easy to see why the author would want to smack them around.

There are vague suggestions of reasons to hope for the future books. This is a somewhat darker volume than some of the others, with most of the main characters facing major moral crises, and a bit of action on one of the major dangling plot threads. But then, I said that around Book Eight, and there hasn't been a whole lot of progress since.

One of these days, I really ought to go back and re-read the third and fourth books, which were really the high points of the series in my mind, just to see if they've been replaced by annoying crap, too. But not right now.

| Permanent Link

January 1, 2003

The Phoenix in Flight by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge. It's been a while since I read any good Space Opera, so I decided to take Kate's recommendation, and start the Exordium books (of which this is the first).

This is what you might call "kitchen sink" Space Opera. There's a Vast Interplanetary Empire, an Evil Dark Lord, Ancient Artifacts of Immense Power, Mysterious Alien Races, Space Battles, Psi Powers, Space Pirates, and Much, Much More. It's tempting to go back through that sentence and replace commas with exclamation points, but in the interests of sanity, I'll hold off. In short, this reads sort of like Peter Hamilton's Oversexed Space Pirates Versus the Living Dead trilogy, only Smith and Trowbridge have put some actual thought into the mechanics of all this.

It's rare to read Space Opera where the authors have evidently thought about issues having to do with Special Relativity, but this is one such book. The authors have done some work in figuring out how things would really work in a world with FTL travel but only light-speed communications. That sort of attention to detail is nice to see.

As a result, it seems sort of petty to fill this book log entry with complaints about minor details of the story, but, well, such is life. And the fake curse words just bugged the shit out of me. "Chatzing" and "blunge" are just awful, awful words, and completely fail the "hammer test" (a good curse word is one that you could imagine saying after dropping a hammer on your foot-- OK, maybe this isn't a standard that should be applied to a zero-gee culture, but still...). I realize that this is sort of a tradition in the genre, but it's a tradition that arose (as near as I can tell) at a time when you just couldn't use the word "fuck" and expect to get published-- that's not true any more, and the made-up curses clash with the gritty realism of the rest of the story.

The book also suffered a bit from a variant of the Star Trek Two-Gets-You-Three rule, where most historical examples are drawn from the twentieth century or before, with the occasional hint of some history filling the centuries between us and them ("This is a scientific discovery to rival those of Newton and Einstein and Gdzap..."). The Three Stooges references in particular felt overly cute.

It's actually sort of hard not to fill the review up with this stuff-- the books are so plot-driven that I don't want to post spoilers. It's also a little hard to get a sense of the overall plot-- it's clear even in this book that there's some grand, sweeping plot that will span the whole series, but at this point, I really can't see where that's headed, so I can't really say anything sensible about it.

But, as I said, it seems petty to complain about this stuff. I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I'm halfway through the sequel. I'd recommend them to anyone who enjoys the better variety of Space Opera.

| Permanent Link

As I'm not as ambitious or conscientious as Kate is, this isn't using any weblogging software at the moment-- I don't figure it will be updated regularly enough to require automatic archiving and the like.

The comment feature is provided by YACCS, and is dead simple to install. If you're looking to add comments to a weblog, it's a good way to go.

Obligatory silly little counter:

Begun: 7 August, 2001