Review: Against the Odds, by Elizabeth Moon

Unexpectedly the last of Elizabeth Moon‘s Serrano Legacy/Familias Regnant books, Against the Odds, left me feeling… sad.

As with most series with a planned-for ending (at least I guess it was; it feels that way when, in this concluding book, most threads come together) the last part made for an exhilarating ride, making me read read read on. Not that there were any real surprises, as what happen is well founded in the previous parts of the story… even if you, back then, didn’t think this was important beyond general world-building, or could ever guess that this or that character would reoccur three or four books later. But the pace was up, things kept happening, one thing leading to the other… and suddenly it was 1 AM on a workday and sleep was to get shorted once more.

The backside is we don’t really see very much of any character – rather snippets, building on what have previously occurred. This isn’t to automatically say character development is zero. Some of the characters makes remarkable journeys towards maturity and identity, culminating here, and others gets added depth, a dark angle that suddenly change not only their lives… but there’s no real close contact, no delving on a single set of characters, the way I have grown used to from previous instalments.

For most characters the ending must be viewed as a good old “lived happily ever after” ending, what ever constituted “ever after” for that particular character. But for some the ending is more ambivalent, and for others… well, I did say I felt sad, didn’t I? Had I read such an ending as the concluding chapter 20 years ago I might had thought it pompous. Today, when all too many people that I have known are dead and gone, it speaks to my own need to name absent friends for which to raise a salute.
Which makes me sad.

But what ever could be said about this particular book it’s a worthy ending to a series that’s ideal as in-between palate-cleansing reading, without being brainless.

Review: Change of Command, by Elizabeth Moon

With the exception of the ending Change of Command is one of the best of Elizabeth Moon‘s Serrano book I’ve read, yet. A wealth of complex motives, spread among a wealth of groups of people, sets the stage for a full scale galactic power struggle – in the midst of which is the Fleet officers Barin Serrano and Esmay Suiza, trying to get married; a counterpoint to the menacing seriousness of several megalomaniac righteous bastards competing for power, with or without knowledge of each other.

This book is far far removed from the lightness – despite the gravity of the topics handled – and boisterous adventurism of the previous books in the Familias Regnant series; something hinted at in the previous instalment (Rules of Engagement) but now come to full bloom… and I’m no longer so sure the Serrano/Familias Regnant books should be considered the fluff I’ve previously marked it as.

Sadly for everyone who haven’t read the previous books this one, despite it’s other qualities, does not stand on it’s own – rather it depends heavily on the previous books for story, background and character development, and not only that; it acts as a bridge to the concluding book – Against The Odds (which I’ll be reading next).
Which in itself says something about the quality of this series.
Or so I think.

More gratitude where that came from…

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post on that small word “gratitude”, and how I detest it. Yet again I found reason to vent on that topic and I decided that yes, I want to rant about it one more time.

Some concepts are worth that effort. Perhaps because they are seemingly innocuous while in reality they are poison.

The poisonous part of “grateful” and “gratitude” is that the concept implies helplessness; that humans are unable to affect or influence what happens around them; that we are subject to someone else’s impulses.

The idea is that we should sit and watch while our human rights, our honour and dignity are ripped off us; or be “grateful” when someone allows us a semblance of humanity.

The idea is that we should feel “grateful” that we live in a country where we can live in some kind of decency while damned be the buggers that have done something horrible so deserve to spend their lives in abject poverty.

I just simply detest the idea that we cannot and should not try to influence our living conditions and circumstances. It’s a slap in the face on every human effort, from the modest beginnings of agriculture to modern science. It’s a hoe of dung on the fights for equal rights, for justice.

To me the word “gratitude” is a container for all that.

So please don’t ask me to express “gratitude”, or to feel “grateful”. Ever.

Review: The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi

Ages ago Isaac Asimov grafted the detective story trope on the science fiction stem (Caves of Steel), and over the years the two have become more comfortable with each other – in The Quantum Thief so much so that only allusion is needed to convey the set of ideas; in itself a sign of maturity, perhaps?

The Quantum Thief is the début work of Hannu Rajaniemi, and as such an impressive one. Well written, and then I haven’t even considered the fact that he doesn’t write in his native tongue. Well conceived. A main character that grows on you, even if his main feature is neither he or we really knows who he is (more than once he reminds me of Hergé’s Tintin, in his relative featurelessness). Interesting concepts, well drawn. Hints of lifestyles and cultures I’d love to know more about.

But. Is it me or is this just one more of the same? One more in the British Literary SF canon, bravely daring the quantum ice ledge? One more experimenting with the texture of time and reality, of perception?

I’m not ready to answer that yet. Time will show if this is the start of a series featuring dashing breathless adventures against an exotic but inconsequential backdrop culture, or if he’ll be ready to tackle the ethical, moral and ideological consequences of the world he has created.
Will he be able to break free from the Brit SF idea-maze?

But for a début – well done. Very well done.
I’ll definitely look out for his next book, with the hope that I won’t have to wait an eternity ;-)

Review: Voyager in Night, by C.J. Cherryh

Though a slim volume – by modern standards – Cherryh‘s Voyager in Night took some time to get through. The reason is this is no light and easy read. Despite it’s outer trappings – a group of young people trying to establish themselves stumbles on a first contact situation with a very alien alien – and a truly cheesy cover this is a book about how we face the other and about individual identity and about what makes us Human.

Siblings Rafe and Jillan, with Jillan’s husband Paul, have invested all their savings (mainly Paul’s inheritance, as the Rafe and Jillan is more or less destitute) in a run-down insystemer ship. They’ve just started off their new lives, in a new part of space, when an alien megaship comes crashing in. Their small ship gets swept up by the alien, entangling them in an esoteric and strange struggle for power.

The multiple character story can be very confusing, as it’s hard to keep track of who’s who – normally I don’t have that kind of problem but in this case very little distinguishes the individuals, if indeed they are individuals. But if you persist in your reading you will, in the case of Voyager in Night, reap a considerable reward. So, despite the cons I’d definitely recommend this book. At least if you’re an SF reader.