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hugo nominees

Book Log, Other People's Books

Book review: Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ancillary Sword, book 2 of the Imperial Radch series, is not quite as awesome as Ancillary Justice–but that’s not actually a bad thing, since “not quite as awesome as its Hugo-winning predecessor” is still pretty freggin’ awesome.

In book 2, we’re picking up pretty much right where book 1 left off. Our protagonist Breq has been handed a Mercy and its crew, and has been tasked to protect the Athoek system. While doing that, she has to juggle dealing with a new lieutenant who’s not the baby-faced young officer she appears to be, the potentially hostile officers and crew of the larger ship Sword of Atagaris, making peace with the sister of one of her slain officers from when she’d been Justice of Toren, class conflict on the space station and planetside–and the risk of angering the alien Presger when one of their diplomats is killed. And all of this is happening under the shadow of the threat of civil war across the Radch–by which we mean, war between the factions of the Lord of the Radch herself.

There’s certainly no shortage of action, to be sure. At no point in this story was I ever bored. However, by comparison to book 1, I found Breq’s jumping around from event to event in this plot less focused. There’s no one particular big problem she has to solve in this story, and this gives everything a definite “middle book of a trilogy” feel. Given how book 1 ended, I came out of this one with an overall impression of the Lord of the Radch having just shunted Breq off out of the way, and a hope that the real action would pick up again in book 3.

So is this one Hugo-worthy? Unfortunately, I’m not convinced. It’s really good, but that’s not quite the same thing. It doesn’t really break any new ground that Ancillary Justice hadn’t already covered, and the lack of specific focus to the overall plot detracts from this book’s ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor. Still, though, I enjoyed this immensely and will be eager to snap up Ancillary Mercy once it comes out later this year. Four stars.

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Other People's Books

Book review: The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson

The Dark Between the StarsThe Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

I tried to give this book a fair shake, I really did. Regardless of what there is to say about the Hugo Awards politics this year, this novel did actually make it onto the ballot, and I wanted to make an effort to try to read it fairly despite those ongoing politics.

But by the time I made it to Chapter 24, about nineteen percent through on the ebook, I’d just run into too many things that unfortunately just did not work for me as a reader.

The two biggest issues I had were extremely short chapter lengths, coupled with a high number of point-of-view characters in plot threads that had no immediate connection to one another. The narrative jumped around between these points of view with scarcely any time to show depth of characterization, and so I was fairly overwhelmed with a barrage of characters that had no time to gain my sympathies.

Sadly, the one plot thread that returned enough times to get me more detail actively put me off. Garrison Reeves of the Roamers has fled the lava mining colony he was working for, stealing a spacecraft and taking his ten-year-old son with him. Much is made over how awful Garrison’s wife Elisa is, and how she’s put her career ahead of her family and considers herself having been delusional to think she could have a relationship with Garrison. When I stopped reading, she’d just inadvertently triggered the explosion of an alien creature that left her with the distinct possibility that Garrison’s ship might have been destroyed–and she shows no feeling for Garrison at all, just some fear that her son might be dead. But then, the narrative doesn’t exactly show her overflowing with maternal love for said son, either.

(And I found the whole one-note “raging bitchqueen who puts her career ahead of her family” archetype for Elisa grating, in general.)

Plus, Anderson has a way of ending sentences in ellipses for no particular apparent reason–often in paragraphs of hastily summarized backstory for whatever new character got introduced in the chapter I’d reached, and often when describing a character’s opinion about whatever issue they were presently dealing with. Once or twice was fine, but every other chapter made it a stylistic quirk way too obvious too ignore.

By the time I bailed some action had finally started ramping up, and I will allow that by then, Anderson’s particular style of writing was suited to those scenes and made them interesting. But it was too little too late, and I had not managed to become invested enough in any of the characters I’d met so far to care when things started exploding.

Since I did not actually finish this book it would not be fair of me to actually rate it, but I’m noting my commentary here and on my blog regardless, and will be moving on to reading the next of the Hugo nominees.

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Other People's Books

Book review: The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I were to be called upon to provide a single phrase that sums up my reaction to The Goblin Emperor, that would be “a refreshing change of pace”.

There are a host of things I like about this book that fall into that general area. Namely:

  • There isn’t a single human in the story.
  • The goblins are not bad guys, and in fact have a level of social and cultural development apparently comparable to the elves.
  • The protagonist, Maia, is not only not a big brawny action type, he’s instead quite kind-hearted and painfully shy and insecure.
  • Even though Maia is coming out of a history of abuse, which does inform the development of his character, it’s also not a particularly big plot point either.
  • This is not quest fantasy. Nor is it “WE MUST OVERTHROW THIS CORRUPT GOVERNMENT” fantasy or “WE MUST KILL THIS BIG EVIL THING” fantasy (and as a writer who has recently finished a trilogy involving both of those tropes, I am aware of the amusement value of my saying that).
  • We also don’t get into any ideas of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, either. Maia is thrust without warning into the ruling seat of his people, and yet, he rises to the challenge of dealing with it, and his only real goal is to do as good a job as he can. I really appreciate that.
  • Addison’s taken great care to set up the languages of her society, too–I really rather liked the use of pronouns all over the book, as well as occasional clearly non-English words thrown in here and there to give you a taste of what the languages these elves and goblins are speaking would actually sound like.

At the same time, I hold back slightly from committing to a full five stars. While the language nerd in me really appreciates the effort Addison went to here, I also found the archaic-sounding dialogue a slight hindrance to my ability to immerse myself in the plot. This was not only because of the pronoun usage–all the nobility spoke of themselves in plural form, not just Maia–but also because just about all of the names were polysyllabic tongue-twisters. If you’ve read Tolkien at all, and specifically The Silmarillion, these names may well remind you of the sorts of names Tolkien gave to the ruling dynasty of Numenor, which blurred together after a while–even for me, a devoted Tolkien geek. The Goblin Emperor gives me the same problem.

Similarly, I was a little startled to discover that the vast majority of the action in the book is episodic, one incident after another along the general theme of “Maia has to deal with the next challenge dropped on him now that he’s emperor”. There’s an arc involving investigating what happened to his father and brothers–the act of sabotage that kills them and puts Maia on the throne to begin with–but that’s given surprisingly little emphasis. The story is way more character-driven than it is plot-driven, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it left me feeling like the book should have had more weight to it than it did.

And yet. I’m asking myself if I feel this book’s worthy of a Hugo, and specifically, asking myself whether a Hugo-worthy novel really requires a strong plot arc. Or, is it award-worthy all by itself to have a story that revels in language, and whose protagonist simply just has to figure out how to rule his people to the best of his ability, and to do it wisely and well? Because while Addison doesn’t really shatter any tropes here, she does rather elegantly evade them. And at the end of the day, I really did enjoy this book. Which is what’s important.

Didn’t hurt either that I kept imagining Maia as played by Elijah Wood, either. Four stars.

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