Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Winter break reading

For the last week & a half or so, I've been under the weather to various extents, so rather than run myself ragged as usual with various projects that I was too out of it to really pay proper attention to or concentrate on, I spent much of my free time (and most of the two full days that I was outright sick) reading.

I started off with Anne McCaffrey's Dinosaur Planet, followed by Dinosaur Planet Survivors, as the first one ends in a cliffhanger. (They've since been published in an omnibus edition, titled The Mystery of Ireta.) I'd first read these two in the mid to late 80's, after my mother got hooked on McCaffrey's "dragon" series and decided to try out as much other McCaffrey as she could. They're pretty decent situation-driven sci-fi about a group of scientists/explorers apparently stranded on the planet they were supposed to be studying, and trying to continue with their studies--until half of the group mutinies, tries to start a colony and claim the planet, and arranges for the other scientists to die in an "accident." The second book deals with the accident's survivors trying to pick up the pieces, get back in contact with their missing base ship, avoid being killed by the colonists, and answer most of the scientific mysteries raised in the first book. The second book does actually tidily tie up most of the plots with a neat little bow and provide some closure while still leaving the door wide open for further stories. However, the first book has the major annoyance of having "dinosaur" in the name, featuring creatures that are painfully obviously dinosaurs, and yet the main characters do not recognize them as such until around 150 pages into a 200 page book, always using their own nicknames for them instead (such as "fang-face" for T. Rex, and "giff" or "golden flyer" for pteranodon). It's awkward enough that it makes you want to reach in and slap the characters as much as a character in a slasher movie deciding to go off exploring by herself at night after the litany of mass killings has started. Anyway, so that's 202 & 294 pages read, for what really is a single, 494-page novel.

Last month, I'd seen some McCaffrey books in the library booksale and picked up a trilogy that looked interesting. Turns out they're actually books 3, 4, and 5 of this five-book series. (They've also been published in an omnibus edition, titled The Planet Pirates.) Since I had more down time, naturally, those came next.

Sassinak is the back-story of the space-fleet captain who comes to the scientists' rescue, and shows how she ties into the larger story of newly-discovered planets being illegally colonized, ending with a Rashomon-like retelling of the very end of Dinosaur Planet Survivors from her point of view and featuring quite a bit of minor retconning of character motivations to give the original story a bit more depth. It's co-written by Elizabeth Moon (according to McCaffrey, it's actually written by Moon, based on an outline and some discussions with McCaffrey), and so is much more of a military SF novel. It's also a more solid and nuanced story overall than the first pair are. I think it compares favorably with the other books I've read by Moon, with the glaring exception being that it provides very little closure at the end, even though it ends at the same point as the second novel. With the new information provided about the true context and situational background of the first two novels, what was originally merely room for more stories now forms the link from the beginning to the middle of a much-longer story arc. The book ends with the characters putting together plans to head off to solve the true conspiracy that's behind everything. That said, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and wish there were more in the vein of this one. That's 333 more pages read.

The Death of Sleep came next. This one is "co-written" (again, meaning written based on an outline by & from discussions with McCaffrey) by Jody Lynn Nye. The Rashomon stunt is pulled again, as we get the extended story of someone who was a relatively minor character (though with certain mysteries about her) from the first two novels, who was revealed/retconned in the third novel to actually be a much bigger mover and shaker. Two of the original mysteries about the character are her greater-than-normal mental powers, and hints dropped that she's significantly older than she looks. Here, it's revealed that due to three unplanned extended stints in suspended animation (which is standard equipment in spaceship lifeboats in this universe and causes one to not age at all), while she's only aged for 34 years, she's actually well over 150 years old in "real" time. The main character is a doctor who also has what amounts to an advanced degree in a cross between Zen Buddhism and Jujutsu that also grants one mental powers of mind-over-body and personality-changing hypnosis of others. The main themes are the search for family and self when one has been in suspended animation on the fringes of known space long enough for your children to have grandchildren, and the fight against those pesky colony claim-jumping pirates and the rich merchant-family conspiracy behind them that extends all the way into the highest levels of the government & the military. Overall, I enjoyed the book, except for a gratuitous one-page sex scene (if I want nearly-explicit sex scenes, I'll go read bodice-rippers), and the fact that the book ends at the same middle-of-the-story fade-to-black cliffhanger as the first novel. Since the author(s) went to the trouble to retell large portions of the first novel from this character's point of view, I think I would've preferred the retelling continue all or most of the way through the second novel, too. While a lot of time was spent on the quest for family (and I really felt for the character when she narrowly missed meeting up with her long-lost daughter), but that plot edged towards farcical comedy; I would have rather seen more introspection by the main character and more analysis of the ramifications of extended periods of "coldsleep" (in other words, more of the sort of societal and situational analysis you might find in Asimov's writing), and less "Oh no, space pirates are bad people who kill some nice people!" Some more "Here's another arm of the pirate's operation shut down, yeilding some leads to the next higher level of the operation" to the plot would also have been welcome. (The same is true of book three, but to a much lesser extent.) Also, even though I generally liked the book, I found that I much prefer Elizabeth Moon's "voice" over Jody Lynn Nye's. Anyhow, that's another 380 pages knocked out.

Last is Generation Warriors, which is "co-written" by Elizabeth Moon (via the same arrangement), and that's how it's listed on the cover, spine, and on McCaffrey's personal webpage, though what is thus apparently a typo on the title page lists the author as Jody Lynn Nye. This one picks up where all of the other books left off, and finally the plot actually moves forward. There are now two main characters and two main secondary characters, and once they go their separate ways, the story rotates among their perspectives, and occasionally flips to the viewpoint of lesser characters, a la Clancy's Jack Ryan novels. One thing I didn't like was the time spent on the surprise reveal of one character's true ancestry, since it was heavily hinted at in book four and book five then went a completely different way with that subplot; I would've vastly preferred a simple confirmation of book four's direction. Another is that the two main characters of the first two novels are rendered insignificant and near-useless here and are shuffled off into a closet and ignored for the entire story. (To have them be so prominent, competent, and interesting initially, only to be written off and all but ingored in all following stories, was a bit jarring. Even when they're on-scene in the Rashomon-like bits, they're portrayed as fairly bubble-headed and boring.) One thing I did like was the subplot of a character who suddenly finds himself apparently the only honest person on what turns out to be a pirate scout vessel, largely because it provided the sense of actually doing something rather than simply dodging repeated faceless attacks that result in the death of an associate as was common in book four and less so in book three (and happens again later on in this book). Unfortunately, with four books of backstory all leading up to the same point in time, and only one book to pick up all those threads and tie them all up, the plot moves a little too quickly, especially towards the end of the book, where everything handily hits the fan at once and is wrapped up almost in less time than it takes to tell. After the massive build-up of the first four books and the first two-thirds of this one, the final push to the climax, while it should be fast-paced and exciting in a book like this, is far too fast, with far too many convenient occurrences happening rather than the final build being whipped into a frenzy by the major pieces we've been learning about being revealed and falling into place. It probably should've been broken up into two books of this size, with the first one being the first 3/4 of this book, expanded a bit, with the second being the spiraling build to the climactic battle, an expanded tale of the battle itself, and a much-expanded denoument and description of the aftermath. The book is also hurt, in my opinion, by a mild case of Jack Ryan syndrome (so named because Tom Clancy's character suddenly, and in a very contrived manner, becomes President of the United States in one book) that could have been avoided--possibly even without changing the actual outcome of the events in question--by drawing out the events, spending more time on details and ramifications, and showing the reader that the end result is the most natural possible culmination of those events, rather than tossing in a few brief, throwaway character mentions and cutting from there directly to the result. On the plus side, the book really does end and give the reader a sense of closure. This one has 344 pages.

So all told, that's 1551 pages read in a bit over a week[1], over 1000 of which was in just the last four days. Overall, I enjoyed the series, and I would recommend it as generally good but a little flawed (in other words, average or a bit above) escapist science fiction. There's better science fiction out there, and there's better escapist science fiction out there, but I'm glad I've read these, and would probably enjoy reading more stories set in between these, if there were any, and likely might read them again several years down the road. In particular, I'd enjoy reading more novels by Elizabeth Moon about Sassinak's adventures in Fleet. They'd probably be nearly interchangeable with Moon's other military sci-fi novels, and Weber's Honor Harrington series, but that's okay by me, as all of those I've read have been good reads.

[1] (No, 1500 pages in a week or so is nowhere near a record for me. That would be when I read all 10 volumes--3898 pages--of L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth dekalogy in two weeks during the summer before my freshman year of high school. After somewhere around the third or fourth volume, I decided that I hated the books and they likely weren't going to get any better as they went on, but that I would push on and finish the series just to be able to say I had read it and finished it, even though it's some of the most unpleasant and unreadable fiction I've ever picked up.)

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: anne mccaffrey, books, dinosaur planet, fiction
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