Number 6 (newnumber6) wrote,
Number 6

November Book Foo 2/2

Finished: Slum Online by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
A college student has a secret double life, playing in a multiplayer fighting game online. He wants to become the very best, and sometimes that quest means that school, his new girlfriend, and other concerns must fall by the wayside. Also catching his interest is the growing legend of a mysterious character challenging, and winning against, the best players in the game, in the unranked matches outside of the arena.

I'm not sure I'd consider this a science fiction novel. Yes, it deals with technology and how it impacts the world and people in it, but none of the technology is noticeably beyond anything we have now... or, for that matter, anything we've had for the past fifteen years, before the book was published. There's no outlandish hooks like "die in the game and you die for real!" it's just a game like any other. The particular game they focus on may be invented, but it's thoroughly mundane and easily plausible as something that could have existed at some point. If somebody told me it was based on a real game I'd simply never heard of, I'd have no reason to doubt them. Therefore, if this is science fiction, we'd have to call the romantic comedy "You've Got Mail" a science fiction movie, and I'm not prepared to do that.

That said, it does have a certain charm. It's another type of book that shouldn't work... fundamentally it's about a kid playing video games, trying to be the best at something that doesn't really matter. It doesn't really feel like there are any stakes... why should I as a reader care if he wins the championship? Even the main character doesn't seem to care if he flunks out of school because of this quest, so why should that matter to me either? And yet, I did want to see how it would turn out, and the journey did wind up going in some different directions than I expected.

The technology, as I said, is thoroughly mundane, but at least it's also treated more or less realistically. It's not like a typical TV treatment of video games where they talk about things like "points" in a game that doesn't have points, or "getting to the next level" while an open world game, with no set levels, is on screen. In this book things sometimes hinge on details like the exact placement of pixels, and it's somehow neither boring nor fake. The seemingly pointless endeavors like finding secret ways to jump impassable walls or practicing endlessly to use an obscure glitch to get an edge ring true. I've done similar things myself in some games. Occasionally the amount of control of the character offered by a simple gamepad might stretch the bounds of credibility, but not by much, and you can often even write it off as the character reading things into the game that aren't there.

And, beyond the game itself, the character interactions and the rest of the story held my interest very well... the plot sometimes seems to wander and not know exactly where it's going, but in this way it feels like it echoes the adolescent life style deliberately rather than merely being a writer with no plan. And the book makes a few interesting observations on why people behave the way they do. Probably the thing I'm iffiest on is how the main character related too many mundane things to the game (like referring to sounds in his class as 'FX'), which at times came off a little gimmicky, but not enough to really annoy me.

The story's didn't blow me away or anything, and I'm not sure I'll even remember much about it in a year's time, but it was fun enough reading and better than I was expecting.

Finished: Necrotech by K.C. Alexander

A cybernetics-enhanced mercenary wakes up with no memory of the past few months, in an unknown facility, and as a dangerous situation is about to erupt that costs the
life of her girlfriend. While trying to piece things together, she finds that her own reputation is in the toilet and has to do her best to uncover what happened.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free through a giveaway on Goodreads. I don't think it affected my review.

Okay, this is a book in the subgenre of cyberpunk. And I should probably state up front that I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Cyberpunk. I love the technological milieu, the general idea of it, but a few of the tropes I really don't care for at all. Some merely need to be done well, others I outright dislike.

It's also a genre that's well past its prime. But that actually gives me hope, because, my reasoning goes, a new book might avoid some of the pitfalls and overdone aspects of the genre. So, when I first heard about this book, I was excited to try it.

Unfortunately, it still hit a few too many of my cyberpunk "hates."

But let's start with the good. I think that author handles action pretty well (although high-action pieces typically aren't things I look for... I often glaze over in fight scenes). The worldbuilding (with a couple exceptions below) also felt pretty interesting, instead of relying on the typical Cyberpunk "like urban sprawl, only worse", there actually is a more significant difference to the "world" everyone lives in, and I appreciated that novelty. Also I have to give some respect to writing an unlikable protagonist.

Of course, the last is also a problem. Unlikable protagonists are one of those cyberpunk things that have to be done very well for them to not count as a negative for me. Because, while they may be disagreeable, if I don't find something to care about, why do I care what happens to them? In this case, I never really found it. Yes, her dead-girlfriend opening was somewhat sympathetic, but undercut by the fact that the relationship didn't seem to be much more than a pleasant diversion rather than a true-love. Often she seems more broken up over the fact that her reputation was ruined than that someone she cared about was one. She's also violent and crude, with again, somewhat par for the course in a cyberpunk book, and sometimes entertaining, but in this book she kills someone in the first few pages without even really understanding what's going on... that they turned out to be into something nefarious seems to be almost an accident, and it made it hard for me to root for them. Again, in other hands, an unlikeable protagonist can be fascinating (for example, Kameron Hurley's Nyx), but here it just fell flat for me.

Another big annoyance was some of the worldbuilding elements. To illustrate, I'm going to talk about a plot element that is NOT in any way in this book, but is a little easier to explain. In many stories (and especially TV shows) involving virtual reality, there's often this twist... "If you die in VR, you die FOR REAL!" I hate that twist, because it makes no sense to me. Maybe in a certain rare set of circumstances, custom equipment designed for that purpose by a psychopath, that can be justified, but if you use it as a natural condition of really, really good VR, the kind of VR that's used by most of society... you've lost me. I understand why they do it, to give stakes to a scene that would otherwise be a "game" but it comes off so false that it's actually counterproductive.

In this book, they didn't have that, but they had an element I hate almost as much, the concept that there's a magical "limit" of technology you can have implanted in you. Everyone's limit is different, but if you go over this limit... you turn into a rampaging zombie. You can also go into this limit if you don't get enough power to the cybernetic systems you do have, including stuff that's in every single human being alive. I mean, seriously? Doesn't that seem like a design flaw to be removed in beta-testing? Not to mention this bizarre idea that if you remove your leg and get a replacement somehow your brain is less human.

I've seen this concept used often in RPGs, where it has an obvious purpose... to keep players from loading up on Cybernetics and becoming unstoppable killing machines. I understand it. I loathe it, and that loathing affected my opinion of the rest of the book. (Incidentally, this element, combined with the treatment of "rep" as a score that goes up or down for the streets as a whole, makes me suspect that the author played similar Cyberpunk-themed RPGs as I did).

Unfortunately, this plot element is so deeply embedded in the world that it's existence tainted my whole reading experience (and yet, oddly enough, it could have fairly easily been removed or mitigated without affecting the plot overly much... but the fact that they didn't meant I was reminded of it almost everywhere). Maybe without it, I might have warmed more to the character. Or maybe if I liked the character more, I might have just rolled my eyes and gone with the silly concept of there being a "threshold" of technology you can get implanted in you before you start chewing on faces. But both of them together made me just not care for the book or the world very much.

I'd almost give it a one star, but I think everything else is just good enough that I'd push it up to two. I won't hold it against the author for future books, but I probably won't read any more in this series either (which is a bit of a shame because it did leave in a place that I kinda wanted to see where it would go from there).

Finished: Dawn (Legends of the Galactic Heroes #1) by Yoshiki Tanaka

Mankind has spread out through space, but there's still war, conflicts involving thousands of ships and millions of lives. On one side is the Galactic Empire, an oppressive
regime that is milding in its old age. On the other, is the Free Planets Alliance, which has good intentions but often hampered by bureaucracy and the political machinations of those elected to power. Each side has one genius general, but they must work with what they're given.

This is apparently a rather famous Japanese SF military SF series, in no small part due to the fact that there's an anime adaptation. However, I should point out that I've never seen that adaptation, and it plays no role in my own perceptions.

It starts off a little rough, with a long exposition section detailing the history of the Empire and the forces that rose to oppose it. So long that for a while I thought the whole book was going to be like that, just a bizarre recounting of how things developed with little actual character interaction. Thankfully, after that it settles down and starts jumping back and forth between characters on the two sides (and more, who aren't direct allied with either). It's still not great at this point... many of the characters feel flat or are written as one of the few people with any intelligence at all, but it's okay, and I could get into the storyline. It does tend to focus a little too much on the specific battles and the strategic decisions that led up to and eventually win or lose the battle. The bad decisions usually caused by other people who don't listen to the advice of the geniuses until too late. Still, it was entertaining enough that I didn't feel bored.

However, it's not as good as I wanted, and there are a number of reasons for this. One is that this is apparently an attempt to "retell" the Prussian Wars in a SF setting. Now, I know little about those wars, but the very idea of trying to cast land or sea-based combat into space leads to some complications. Like, for example, forcing the audiece to accept that there's a very narrow region of space, one that can be easily defended, that ships have to pass through in order to get from one Empire to the other. Maybe with certain types space travel (like like if all travel is done through wormhole nexuses) that idea can be made to work, but here it just felt handwaved and forced. Also, the books don't really have a lot of roles for female characters... this may also be a function of when and where the books were written, but it just seems singularly bizarre to me when I read a book set in the future and the most significant female character in the progress, pro-freedom side's military's sole job seems to be preparing tea for the general. There are a few other characters outside of the military, but most of them have uninspiring roles like a politician who presses for a foolish military advance out of a desire to win an election, or a woman who's taken to be the Emperor's wife which motivates some of the other men who know her to advance until they can eventually do something.

Those blind spot aside, it does have a few interesting things to say about the political side of conflict, and some of the comments feel startlingly relevant to today's conflicts (like leaders blithely assuming that when they take over a planet run by the Empire they will be greeted as liberators even if their takeover destroys the infrastructure already keeping them safe and more or less healthy and fed).

All in all, I didn't hate it, I didn't particularly like it, it was just okay. It doesn't end with much of a conclusion, because it's only volume 1 in a long series, but I doubt I'll continue with any more of it unless I happened to get it in a bundle of ebooks, like I got this one.

Finished: The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

It's the 147th century and mankind has divided, or prismed, into many different subspecies, with radically different looks and cultures and, in many cases, in conflict with one another. At the top of the heap are the Aramanthine, near-immortals with almost unimaginable levels of technology that they use to rule over many of the others, although when a new challenger to their throne appears, they're thrown into conflict. Meanwhile an average citizen living his life gets into a situation where he may need to leave it behind and live as a fugitive. There's also a mysterious device that may change everything. Other stuff also happens.

This is an incredibly ambitious book, particularly for an author's first novel. And I really, really wanted to like it.

I did, sometimes. There parts where I was enjoying it, and a few moments of greatness, but the flaws, although perhaps small at first, by the end of the book wound up snowballing and making the book as a whole faltering significantly.

Maybe the problem was that in some ways it was too ambitious

Let's start with the basics of the setting. Attempting to portray something as far ahead in the future as the 147th Century is a tall order for any SF author. Less than a century back in time on our own world and how we live and interact is practically unrecognizeable. One of the most common ways to deal with the problem is to make the future like the past, and indeed, that seems to be the approach Toner's generally taken here. Not everything mind you, there are obvious pieces of high technology, but many of the plotlines seem to take place in pastoral, somewhat socially regressive societies, ones that still have things like sexism and other bigotries I'd hope we could move past permanently. Made even worse because the Prism races are often very different from baseline humanity. Hold that thought, because we're going to get back to them, but my main point is that the society didn't seem as ambitious as the timeframe. The book has tons of wildly imaginitive differences from our world, and small details of everyday life sometimes crept up in cool way that hit home with the idea that they were in the future, it felt rather boring to me. There was still bigotry. Family dynamics seemed more or less the same. There were still noblemen who lorded their power over commoners. Leaders who get chosen by some arcane set of rules rather than any particular competance. People even still fought with swords!

But where that was boring to me, where the novel differed from things I'd read a thousand times before, the novel suffers from an overdose of complexity, exacerbated by the author not handholding at all. Terms are thrown around and often you don't get explicit explanations for what's going on for a hundred pages or so. Some people like that... and indeed, I sometimes like that. But there's always a balance, and, at least for me, this time, the balance went too far on the side of impenetrability. Take, for example, the Prism races. We don't know exactly what they are for a while. That's actually okay in my book. But the author keeps tossing off names of these various races and factions and it was just far too hard to keep straight who was who and what each race looked like. I completed the book and I still could not tell you which race was the closest to recognizable 21st Century Humans, or any feature of a race's appearance save for one or two. The author may have mentioned it, but there was so much being thrown at me none of the information stuck. And it's not just the people, it's the places. I had no idea where much of the action was happening at any given time, nor how the locations related to each other. I didn't know if different plotlines were on the same planet, the same solar system, or the same galaxy. Sometimes I'm not even sure it's the same time. Eventually we get some answer about the type of environments people sometimes live on, but... I still don't really have a good sense for it all in my head, and locations named fall flat. I remember at one point they ended a chapter with the revelation of the location/destination of a trip traveling in space. It seemed obvious that it was supposed to mean something to me, and I recognized the name being spoken before, but I had no idea what it signified. Now that I've completed the book and remember that moment... I still don't. They probably explained it, but it just didn't stick in my head because there was too much going on.

Too much going on in terms of the details and factions and arrangements, but the same can also be said for the plot. There were, I think, three or four main plots, different viewpoints that the author jumped back and forth between (and occasionally straying to others for a short scene or two). Only one stuck in my head to a significant degree (and it spent most of the book with a rather weak, not-especially-sympathetic character, though at least interesting and mildly relatable). One other one I remember somewhat, but it was hampered by not really being clear what was going on or what the stakes were. And the rest, I remember the occasional scene from. I remember reading the official synopsis of the book to remind myself of things to talk about and one of the intertwining stories I thought, "Wait, who was that? Was he even in this book?" before I finally remembered that he was, though he seemed to be an exceedingly minor character. Maybe I just forgot.

Or maybe he's more important in the next book. Because that is another factor in my lack of enthusiasm, after going through all that, the book doesn't complete the story. That's not a dealbreaker on its own... earlier this year I read Too Like the Lightning that similarly read as one half of a longer work, but in that book it didn't bother me as much. I think one of the reasons is that, in this book, even if I decided to read it, there's no way I'm going to remember even the barest parts of the continuing story when the next book comes out, without rereading it, whereas in other books, it's simple enough that I won't need an extensive reminder. If I read the sequel, I said, at this point, I don't think I will.

Again, it's not that it's fundamentally bad... there is a lot to like, some really cool ideas, and the prose seems to be pretty good from a line-to-line, paragraph-to-paragraph level, and some moments where I genuinely felt emotional investment in some scene or character, even scenes of brutality that give me chills... it just seems the author overdid things, I think, and as a whole it didn't work for me. I really wanted to like it, to love it, but while I was willing to go along with the complexity at first, the more the book went on and on and I couldn't keep track of what everyone was doing or why I should care, I cared less and less. And, there was one other thing, an explanation long in waiting that hit on a personal pet peeve, that made me angry and ruined what little lingering interest I had in the plotline, that pushed it firmly into science-fantasy (which it was already trending towards) when it didn't need to be, when an actual science-fictional explanation would have not only sufficed, but been much better. When they revealed that, I knew I would not be reading the sequel. Maybe I'll change my mind in months to come as some of the ideas settle and stick and stay interesting, but right now, nope, I feel completely done with this universe.

But since, as I said, this book doesn't actually complete any of the stories, I have to rate it on the merits of what I've read so far, an unfinished, unsatisfying story. And, as half a story, it doesn't really measure up to any more than two stars. I doubt I'll be reading the sequel. But what the author did well impressed me enough that I am willing to try him again if he writes something unrelated. There's a lot of talent here, I think it just needs to be channeled a little better.

Finished: The Scar by China Mieville

Fleeing from political dangers in her home of New Crobuzon, Bellis Coldwine embarks on an ocean voyage... and her ship is soon taken by pirates, the passengers forced to join a floating pirate city with a daring agenda. For some of those aboard, it means freedom, for others it means exploring the frontiers of magic and science, but Bellis wants to go home, eventually, and that's the one thing denied to her.

This isn't quite a sequel to Perdido Street Station, although it takes place a few months after and the events in the book are mentioned briefly. The main character, Bellis, doesn't even rightly appear in the first book (although she is mentioned once as some backstory of one of the main characters is explored, and that connection is part of the reason for her journey). It's merely another book in the world.

And what a world. As I said in my review to the first book, I'm generally not a fantasy reader, or someone who enjoys steampunk, so to be so taken by a world that is a combination of elements of both is really surprising. The author spreads tantalizing hints of a sweepingly long history of magical and inhuman creatures, of invasions from other realities, of things that blur the line between technology and magic, and holds back enough that you want to know more, even while knowing they're not a huge part of this particular story. It set my mind imagining and wishing for more books in the world. Luckily, there's one left (at least, as of this writing, but without having read the last book, I already hope that will change).

The story was pretty good overall, I'm not sure if I liked it more than the first book on its own merits, or if the setting had just had time to steep in me and so I felt more connected right out of the gate. It drifts and meanders a bit, as is kind of appropriate for one set on the sea, but there's a lot of scenery to enjoy along the way so I didn't mind. The main characters weren't quite as interesting either, I think, although close enough that it's not worth worrying about, and everyone has different tastes in that respect. There were quite a few "oh, wow, what a neat idea" moments showcasing Mieville's rich imagination, although there were still a few elements I missed from the first book and wished would make a return appearance, even though, again, not really part of the story.

The ending was really an interesting bit. Without spoiling it, as we got to the climax, I was kind of disappointed, I felt like certain things we were building towards fizzled out undramatically, even though there was a lot of drama and action, it wasn't in the right places, and aspects of it felt gimmicky. And yet, towards the very end, the author... he didn't exactly turn it around, I still have exactly the same complaints, but he did something ELSE that I wasn't expecting, yet that makes perfect sense in retrospect, that tied the story together in a neat way ("neat" both in the sense of "cool" and "orderly"), and left me with a smile on my face.

I think that's a big part of why I'll give it four stars, even though there are some significant things I enjoyed more in the first book. I think Bas-Lag may actually be my favorite fantasy world (at least, leaving out things like superhero universes and sci-fi-where-the-science-is-pretty-unbelieveable-but-it's-fun-anyway).

Finished: Feedback by Mira Grant

Decades after zombies began rising from the dead and changing everything, there's a Presidential election, and one of the candidates hires a blog team to follow them, only they uncover a conspiracy involving zombies. No, not the Masons, that's Feed. This is another team, following another candidate, at the same time.

Sometimes when an author realizes they've got a world people enjoy, they'll do this thing, where they don't quite have it in them to do a sequel (which might involve answering questions about the fates of characters they don't want to commit to), but instead decide that some minor character or group in the first book (or occasionally just similar to the first book) has had their own amazing adventure, parallel to the original one.

It rarely works out, in my opinion. Or, at least, it's rarely really, entirely worthwhile. Sometimes it's still awfully fun, and worth reading, for fans at least, on those merits alone, but even when that happens, it often comes off a little artificial, like an author's doing it for the guaranteed sales, and it sometimes adds its own complications and contradictions to the universe.

Unfortunately, this book does not feel like an exception to that rule. Make no mistake, it IS fun. It's the same kind of zombie-adventure-fun-with-journalists that the first book was, and you can enjoy it on that level. I certainly did. But it also felt superfluous in many ways, and severely annoyed me on other levels.

Firstly, it reminds me of a movie sequel where for whatever reason the original cast can't return. That is, the book feels at times like it was just ticking off boxes, replicating things that the focus-groups liked from the first rather than trying to go into any dramatically new territory. The main characters, well, they aren't exactly the same as the bloggers from Feed, but they're close enough in many ways, just not quite as engaging, even if they are likeable. There's the same kind of political-trail scenes mixed with sudden zombies, and peeks at a world where blood tests are frighteningly common to test whether you're turning into a killer zombie. This isn't entirely a bad thing... the reason I was interested in picking up another book in this world is obviously that I LIKED all those things, but when you put them all together in a package that's so close... it doesn't feel like it's everything it could have been from an author as talented as this one.

It does take a weird turn in the last section or two where it almost felt like the author needed to fill more pages (or fill in more time to fulfill her high concept that the story begins and ends on the same days as Feed), but this section, while not startlingly original as zombie stories go, at least didn't feel like a retread of the original book so was to me, highly welcome.

The more significant problem is that the book's premise comes up against a fundamental issue with these kinds of side-stories, one that's especially bad with this one. If we we want to consider both books canon, then virtually nothing in this book could be dramatic enough that it would merit a mention in the original. Except that's not the case. The first book doesn't (to my knowledge) mention attacks on other candidates... in fact, it barely mentions them at all most of the time (and these are journalists, remember). Which is fair enough if nothing particularly noteworthy happens with the other candidates. Yet, in this book, plenty of candidates have huge zombie attacks that certainly should have been at least mentioned in passing by the Masons. One of these zombie attacks is known about by a character who later goes on to work for the Masons, but apparently he didn't feel it worth mentioning to them. So if we take this book as canon, we're left with a situation where the star journalists we loved from the first trilogy wind up being spectacularly uninformed about things that are going on outside their little bubble, even about things that are widely known among the news community. Some news organization they run, I guess?

Worse, the book itself is partially built on a contradiction. Feed follows the Republican candidate. They mention the name of the Democratic candidate briefly, and in the third book they mention her again, but with a completely different (though similar) name. I hadn't even noticed this issue myself, UNTIL this book came out and I went looking at the original trilogy to see how well it matched up. The author said that one of the reasons for this book was to resolve that contradiction. Now, to me, the best way to handle this is to say, "Oops, yes, we'll quietly be correcting one of those in future printings." Instead, in this book, she takes the name from the LATTER book (meaning the book Feed is now directly contradicted by the book Feedback which it is supposed to be parallel to... future printings may well correct this, but still, why not choose the earlier name and fix the later book?) but also, takes the name from the FORMER book and make her a second candidate for the Democratic ticket leading to a weird situation where two characters with similar names are in the race. It's like covering a tiny tear in the wallpaper with a square of a completely different but similar pattern instead of just painting a bit of correction directly onto the tear. The flaw stands out more, not less.

It also rather severely spoils elements, not just the first book, but some of the explanations that don't get uncovered until later books in the original trilogy, but that's less an issue for fans (of which I am one) as it is for new readers. But yeah, you may not want to read Feedback unless you've read the WHOLE trilogy, not just Feed.

It is more than a little frustrating because it all seems so... unnecessary. Not so much the book itself, but all the contradictions that came along with it. This is a book that I think should have been set at the NEXT Presidential election, with another group of bloggers. Or don't follow the candidates and tell an adventure in the same time frame that involves people the Masons wouldn't be expected to know about. In either case, most of the problems would have gone away (the sequel option would still be a little too close to the original, but that's the least important), and it would, in my view, have done less damage to the franchise. I'm sure there are plenty who care much less about the integrity of fictional worlds that don't mind, though.

And, again, I did like it, just not nearly as much as the other books. And maybe part of it's the times, which is hard to mark against the author. I mean, when the author was writing this, she almost certainly couldn't have anticipated that a story where zombies might attack at any moment and any drop of blood could be a sentence to a fate worse than death would somehow manage to be far less horrifying than the actual US Presidential election going on right now. In some ways reading this book's actually a relief in comparison.

So, yeah, enjoyed, just not super impressed. But my issues with the book are not nearly big enough to make me less interested in more stories set in this world (unless of course, the next book is called "Deadline Crunch!" and followed by "Blackout Drunk" each cynically following unnecessary side-stories that took place during the other novels in the original Newsflesh trilogy that we never heard about).

Finished: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Honor Harrington is a competent new commanding officer... but sometimes that can work against you. When her performance in a training exercise embarrasses the brass, she's sent to Basilisk Station, the dumping ground for the officers the Navy wants to punish or needs out of sight. Worse, her commanding officer there leaves the entire system in her care. Understaffed for a job nobody else seems to care about, and with a crew that resents her for getting into this situation, not to mention plots by a neighboring civilization she's not even aware of, the odds are stacked against her, but Honor still must do her duty to the best of her ability.

This is fairly standard military SF, with a world tuned to make space battles more like naval battles were in the old days. In fact, I've heard this series described as Horatio Hornblower in Space. I've never actually experienced any Horatio Hornblower (aside from reading, and enjoying, another completely separate SF series that was ALSO described as Horatio Hornblower in Space), so I can't evaluate that, but it might give you an idea of what to expect. Still, for me, the "space ships as naval allegory" relies on worldbuilding, which sometimes means techbuilding, explaining the propulsion and weapons technology to justify why space is like water, only emptier. Here, it mostly works for me. Getting there does take a fair bit of exposition, some of which comes in dumps that could perhaps have been done more elegantly, but at least it was interesting and sold the concepts enough that I didn't roll my eyes like I have in other books.

It also veers pretty heavily into competence porn... that is, we're following the adventures of a skilled naval officer finding solutions to problems and generally being better than everyone else, not exclusively because of any genius intelligence, but because of willingness to do her best no matter what. She wins people over along the way, and makes plenty of enemies, but the enemies are generally despicable or lazy people and many of them come to respect her despite themselves anyway. There's something bizarrely appealing about reading all that, even as your brain reminds you that the only reason this character's succeeding so well is because the author's writing it that way. It's not to say her adventures are entirely easy, or without cost, either, but the difficulties just make you appreciate the successes even more. I'd say probably 75% of why I like this book was because of the competence porn aspect.

So what else is there to say? The characters are mostly flat, but there are a few exceptions... often because the characters are meant to be disliked, but there are a few where you get to enjoy the building trust in the relationship. The action seems relatively fine, not my thing though and often when they got to the big battle scenes (especially the final battle) I just stopped being invested in the action and began skimming to see the results. That's a personal quirk though.

One of the more irritating things is that the book does a lot of headhopping... not only do they jump around to different perspectives, including the villains and people back at the Royal Navy Headquarters (many of such scenes could have been eliminated without negatively impacting the plot), but also within scenes, sometimes it seems like we're following Honor and her thoughts, and then suddenly it starts telling us what her first officer is thinking about all of this, without a noticeable break.

Also, I know this is probably sacrilege to the fans, but I hated that damn cat. The main character has a bond with an empathic cat that often sits on her shoulders and reacts to people she interacts with and would probably kill people threatening her. I don't know why I reacted so negatively to it, I actually like cats, it just seemed too much like the author was trying to build in some commercial gimmick that would appeal to cat lovers. Honor's reasonably bland herself, but, hey, she's got an intelligent cat with empathic abilities who does cute things that humanize her! Isn't that awesome? And judging by the longevity of the series, it seems to have worked, but for me, I'd have been more happy if it was just a regular cat that lived in her quarters.

But, overall, I liked it. Wasn't blown away, but I had some fun with it. The fact that I read it from the Baen Free Library (where Baen offers free ebook versions of many of the first installments of its titles, to try to attract new readers) made that even easier. I'm not rushing out to grab the next book in the series, but I might it check out at some point (especially since it, like this one, is also free on Baen's website).

Finished: Warchild by Karin Lowachee

After his parents are killed and he's taken by pirates, a young boy eventually manages to escape... right into the hands of sympathizers to the aliens at war with his people, who take him to the alien homeworld, where he grows up learning their culture. But once he's a teenager, he's sent on a spy mission to infiltrate a military ship from Earth, and finds that neither side might have the monopoly on truth and decency.

I've heard this novel described as being a bit in the mold of Ender's Game, and that's certainly accurate to a point, although the child in question is less super-genius and more average but put in situations he shouldn't be in. It's arguably YA, but it goes surprisingly dark at times , dealing with issues like child sexual abuse and slavery. It doesn't explicitly portray many scenes of such (though there is some towards the end where a character is in their teens, and, the detail level was such that, were it a movie, you could probably say they didn't show anything but it still left you with little doubt about what was occurring), but a significant amount of time is spent on some of the results and consequences are given a lot of focus. I'd say it's done relatively well, too, but I'm no expert.

It's mostly well-done in general, actually. The look into an alien culture, while nothing especially groundbreaking in the field, is interesting enough, and I especially liked that they made a point of saying the alien culture wasn't uniform, that a particular belief being described was just a belief of one of the major cultures on that world. The characters are for the most part distinctive enough that I didn't have much trouble remembering who anybody was and I liked seeing what happened to people, and the central dilemma and the complexity of war exceeded my expectations.

The book also does a good job with pacing, particularly because the story proceeds in several sections where the character is in different situations, and jumping between them could, in less talented hands, feel rushed and disjointed. Here, well, maybe there was still a slight sense of it being quick to move to a new phase, but it was done in a way that it just felt like the book contained a lot more story than another book of its size might.

My biggest complaints were that the first section was told in the second person (a style I loathe), but luckily it didn't last long, and that some of the scenes involving future-hacking pushed on a few of my personal annoyance-buttons. And, perhaps, the end wrapping up a bit too neatly too fast, for the kind of story it was.

The book was a first novel, and for that it is quite impressive. I'd put this in the high 3-stars category already, but I do tend to be a bit more generous to first novels so I'll bump it up to a four. I'd read more of Lowachee's work.

Currently reading (or finished and haven't quite done a review yet): Red Rising by Pierce Brown, The Noise Within by Ian Whates, and Phantasm Japan (short stories). And, it's in transit but when it shows up, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.
Tags: books, zombies
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