Dave's Free Press: Reviews

being why I think things suck and/or rock


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Sun, 25 Mar 2012

Fallen Angels, by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn

In my review of the Kindle I mentioned Baen books's enlightened attitude towards Digital Restrictions Management, for the e-books that they sell are blessedly free of DRM, even those of other publishers that they sell through the Baen website. But they're even more enlightened than that. They also give some of their older books away for free in unrestricted digital formats, including this one through the Baen Free Library. The library's manifesto makes it clear that DRM is a solution in search of a real problem, and that giving away selections from the back-catalogue is a very effective way of both selling more books but also of introducing readers to new writers. If on the strength of my Kindle review you then use it to read lots of DRM-free books from Baen and Project Gutenberg, authors and progressive publishers will thank you!

So what's this book like? It's a comedy in which Our Heroes get into and - of course - escape from all kinds of scrapes while being hunted by a parody Green movement in a Luddite dystopia. It is not, as some say, an attack on the Green movement, but only on its more extremist members and on authoritarians in general. But more importantly, it's a panegyric to science fiction readers, personified in the attendees at a sci-fi convention. I don't go to cons myself, and they really don't appeal to me, but I do recognise what it is that makes people go to them: shared enthusiasm for a topic, camaraderie, and most importantly fascinating conversations with interesting people all of whom can teach you something.

It's one of those books that, while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I recognise that it's also trashy. I recommend it for hardened sci-fi readers, but not for mundanes.

Posted at 21:47 by David Cantrell
keywords: baen | books | sci-fi
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Fri, 23 Mar 2012

A Rising Thunder, by David Weber

Yet another Honorverse installment, and again, it's competently written and entertaining for those who've read the series and its spin-offs up to this point. The importance of the spin-offs is made especially clear on the author's own website, where the series up to "Mission of Honor" are listed in their own section, but this one, which follows directly on from Mission is listed in a separate section along with the spin-offs that I talked about in my review of Mission. In my opinion, Mission should also be listed there.

And unfortunately (but as expected) that ridiculous Conspiracy that I railed against in my review of Mission is still there, still playing the puppet-master.

Posted at 20:34 by David Cantrell
keywords: baen | books | sci-fi
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Wed, 14 Mar 2012

Mission of Honor, by David Weber

Weber's long series of books set in the "Honorverse" (NB: link may contain spoilers) is thoroughly enjoyable if you like "military science fiction". That is, if you like mind-cheese with lots of stuff blowing up. Unlike most other authors in this sub-genre, Weber even manages to make his characters believable and sympathetic, to sometimes have realistic conversations and motivations. And the universe he creates is, on the whole, consistent.

The series went through a bad patch a few books back where there was lots of "jaw jaw" and very little of the "war war" that made the series so exciting. But I'm pleased to say that with the previous installment (At All Costs) and this one, he's back on form.

I have three criticisms. The first is that the books will make little sense unless you've read the previous installments. That's fair enough. Authors writing series have to strike a balance between making later works accessible to newcomers and annoying their established customers with repeated material. In a short series, a bit of repetition won't do any harm, but in this one - 12 books so far, with at least two more in the pipeline and quite probably more to come - it would be actively harmful.

The second is related to the first, but is, I think, rather more important. There are several spin-off series, also set in the same universe, which some readers may not have bothered with. Unfortunately one of them, the "Wages of Sin" series, turns out to be of vital importance, and the "Saganami Island" series is also of some relevance to this book and, to a lesser extent, to the previous one. Keeping track not only of a long main series with several parallel interacting plot threads (but at least they evolve alongside each other in a single series) but also of at least one and potentially several other series at the same time is hard. It's worth doing, but hard.

And finally, remember how I said that the universe Weber has created is mostly consistent? The big economic inconsistency is beginning to bite, hard. He knows it - he even has some characters talk about how it makes no sense. He tries to justify it as being a front for a huge conspiracy, but huge conspiracies just don't work. The one he's written involves literally millions of people, at least thousands of whom are scattered all over the place amongst other polities and societies, and they're actually multi-generational sleeper agents. He expects us to believe that the children of sleeper agents will be content to be brought up as normal people (you can't trust young children with such secrets, after all), to form friendships, perhaps fall in love with members of the host society, and, when you inform them of their family's hidden role for them to just accept it. Even if somehow most of them held it together, all it would take would be for a handful to blow the whistle and, given how many there are, this must happen - and yet it doesn't for hundreds of years, not until narrative imperative compels it. I can ignore this, I read lots of sci-fi, much of it in the "bad but entertaining" mould, and so my suspension of disbelief muscle gets a regular workout. But even so, it is irritating.

Those last two niggles, plus the entire series's utter lack of anything approaching literary value means it gets only three stars. I recommend it for those who are already Honorverse fans (not that there's much point in recommending it as you'll all buy it anyway) and I recommend the Honorverse as a whole to all sci-fi fans, but I have to insist that you read the books in order. Specifically, in publication order, so that you get the other series at the right time.

Posted at 19:16 by David Cantrell
keywords: baen | books | sci-fi
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