Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Review Post, 11/5/2011

Two books this week.

S.M. Stirling - The Tears of the Sun

This is the most recent of Stirling's Embervese books. Set in a world where all modern technology just stopped working in 1997, Stirling is now telling the stories about the second generation post-event (so, actually in the future). The books are best described as science fantasy - there's some science stuff there, but the plot is entirely fantasy. Gods affect the events, and there is magic and singing swords and the whole bit.

Ok. This is five books into the series, and, if you haven't been reading them, this is not the place to start. If you have been reading them, this may be the one that makes you want to stop. It has all of the things that I like about Stirling - the long, chewy compound sentences, the characters facing absurd odds, the clearly defined good and evil, and all of that. It also has all of the stuff about Stirling that makes me cringe - the writing of accents, mostly.

There are three things that I didn't like about the book - three things that make me almost inclined to tell fans to steer clear. One - the book is largely flash backs, and flash backs within flash backs - as in, the character is describing something that happened three months ago, and in the midst of the description, has to describe something that happened six months ago. These flash backs are presented entirely out of chronological order - something that Stirling does, but it's quite egregious here. You really have to pay attention to the date stamps at the beginning of each section. Two - the whole book is building up to this big climactic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Everything is working towards that end. Lots of discussion of mustering troops, and talking to this group and convincing them to work with that group, and rescuing people so this other group can safely work with all of the pre-existing groups, and etc. Setting the ground for the battle. Making sure that everyone, even the enemies, are in the right place at the right time. And then, there's this battle, and it's a short chapter at the end of the book, and then it's done. For all the build up, I expected more. I wanted to read about the heroic last stands. I wanted to read about the forlorn hopes. I wanted the clash of arms and all of that. And it wasn't there. If you're going to set up a big set piece battle as the whole purpose of the book - well, you should have that battle, is all I'm saying. Three - This book should have been the last book in the series, and it wasn't. Hopefully, the next book will be - the big bad has noticed our bold heroes of good - but there was a lot of back filling and flash backs and setting up of toy soldiers and such that didn't need to be in this book, and which could have been the big climactic battle followed by the bigger, climacticer battle.

Oh. And the title was never explained, as far as I saw.

So, I will probably pick up the next book in the series when I see it, because I am a completeist, and because I care enough about the characters to see where the story ends. But, if you are not a completeist, I would suggest skipping this one. And if you aren't reading the series, this is not the place to start.

Emily Diamand - Fire and Flood

The sequel (and, I'm pretty sure, conclusion) to Diamand's Raider's Ransome. Also set in a post apocalyptic setting, these books follow Lilly, Lexy, and Zeph as they struggle to overcome differences between their societies, and to bring their AI friend to Lundun, where he hopes to be able to power up fully. The book is YA, and I'd say the low end of YA - I'd even go so far as to call it juvenile fiction - so the writing is geared at that level, and the characters are somewhere between 12 and 16. Diamand has clearly done some thinking about the way in which societies fall apart, and how the resulting tribal groups would struggle with each other. She's thought through the sort of fail-safes that a slightly more advanced society than ours might have put in place, and how those fail-safes might fail, and what that failure might look like. All in all, a simple but delightful book, with a lot of adventure and action. I'd recommend it to 8-12 year old readers, boys and girls, and people who like to read stuff for 8-12 year old readers. Good stuff.