What You See is What You Get
In the interest of trying to clear out the backlog of books quickly, I'm going to knock off two in one post: Dave Duncan's Impossible Odds, the latest King's Blades novel (in paperback-- I don't buy them in hardcover), and Joel Rosenberg's Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda, the latest Guardians of the Flame book.
Lumping these together actually makes a fair bit of sense, for a number of reasons. For one thing, they share at least one plot element (saying what that is would be a spoiler for both books). They were also both in-transit reading during some of my recent running around, which has caused them to blend together to a small degree.
But mostly, what links these books is that they're each exactly what they appear to be: perfectly competent new entries in continuing series of workmanlike swashbuckling fantasy novels. There's nothing particularly inspired about either, and nothing particularly inspiring, either. They tell straightforward stories in a fairly straightforward manner, and if you liked the previous books in the series, you won't be terribly upset by either.
If pressed, I'd say that the Duncan is the better of the two, because it's a self-contained story with new characters, where the Rosenberg is tying up loose ends in a long and continuing plot. I don't think it's actually true that more time is spent explaining the vast quantities of baggage that the characters have brought in from previous Guardians novels, but it sort of feels that way. It's certainly true that the plot would be nothing without that baggage, so if you haven't read the previous umpteen books, don't even bother. Duncan's book draws on the setting of past Blades novels, but the plot and characters more or less stand on their own after that.
I realize that this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of either of these books, and you might well be asking why I'm still reading these series in the first place. All I can say is that they served admirably in their intended role, namely, they kept me from fretting about whether the tiny little prop planes I took to and from Sudbury were going to crash. And that's worth eight bucks a pop to me.
Posted at 11:12 PM | link |
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Old Man's War
I've got a bunch of books queued up for booklogging (stuff I read on planes and in hotel rooms, mostly), but I said when I re-launched this site that I wasn't going to feel bound by chronological order, so I'll skip ahead a bit to review John Scalzi's Old Man's War. It's John's first published novel, and he's been working hard to promote it, and, well, he deserves to sell a bunch of copies of it. So I'll throw what little power I have behind the book, because it's great fun.
The basic set-up of Old Man's War is sort of obvious from the title: there's a war, and it's fought by old people. Specifically, it's a sort of funhouse-mirror Starship Troopers: the only people who can join the Colonial Defense Forces and battle aliens on distant planets are people who have reached their 75th birthday. In exchange for up to ten years spent in the CDF, they'll receive new bodies, and eventually a spot on a colony world. Of course, they need to survive, first, and the universe is a nasty place...
Knowing a bit about the people involved in the origin of the book adds a little extra twist to reading it. (For those who don't know the story, Scalzi wrote the book a while ago, and posted it on his web site for interested readers to download. Patrick Nielsen Hayden saw it there, and bought it for Tor.) Knowing Patrick a little bit, it's easy to see why the book would appeal to him, and knowing John, well, the dialogue should be readily identifiable to any reader of the Whatever:
"Is this going to hurt?" I asked.
"Not so much," he said, and tapped his PDA screen. 20,000 microsensors slammed themselves into my skull like four axe handles simultaneously whacking my skull.
"God damn it!" I grabbed my head, banging my hands against the crèche door as I did so. "You son of a bitch," I yelled at Dr. Russell. "You said it wouldn't hurt!"
"I said 'not so much'," Dr. Russell said.
"Not so much as what? Having your head stepped on by an elephant?"
"Not so much as when the sensors connect to each other," Dr. Russell said. "The good news is that as soon as they're connected, the pain stops. Now hold still, this will only take a minute." He tapped the PDA again. 80,000 needles shot out in every direction in my skull.
I have never wanted to punch a doctor so much in my life.
The book follows an old man named John from Ohio through the usual trajectory of a military story: enlistment, boot camp, first combat and all the rest. The world he moves through is richly detailed, often with a comic twist: The basic training sequence is a hoot, the aliens he faces are very inventive, and the battle scenes are well executed.
It's very much a book in the tradition of Robert Heinlein, only, you know, not so annoyingly polemical. A good deal of the exposition is handled by having characters explain things to one another, giving it a bit of a Golden Age feel, but the dialogue is snappy enough that it doesn't get annoying. And while there's obviously been a fair bit of thought put into the way the CDF is organized, we're spared the lectures on how it's the one true way of doing things.
It wouldn't be a Library of Babel post if I didn't find something to quibble about, so I'll mention one thing that bugged me: I'm not sure the concept of the Ghost Brigades makes any real sense. Explaining the exact nature of the problem would be a spoiler, so I'll leave it for the comments if anybody wants to know, but it does undermine the ending a little bit.
That said, it's a really fun read. I tore through it over the weekend, and annoyed Kate by trying to read funny bits out loud to her when she was trying to work. I definitely recommend it to any SF reader, and I'm not just saying that because I'm part of the evil Religious Tolerance Cabal.
Posted at 9:31 PM | link |
Well, this is very very very late, but a point of correction: the book that Scalzi put up on his web site was AGENT TO THE STARS, which is pleasant and fluffy and still available for download. I think it got picked up by some medium-to-small press at some point or another.