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July 24th, 2010

On space opera...

Back from my retreat, which was a week of silence that followed a week of quiet vacation. Lots of good stuff happened during the retreat, most of which wouldn't make any sense in a blog. So instead, let's talk science fiction.

During my vacation I read the Sharon Lee/Stive Miller Liaden omnibus, The Dragon Variation. A friend of mine had sent me some of their pre-Baen books of short stories, which I loved, and I had enjoyed Fledgling (recognizing that it had some problems) so I came to these with high expectations. On one level, I was actually very disappointed, there was so much they should have done, but... they did keep me turning the pages.

My first complaint is that the main female character's reaction to the Lianden universe is just backwards... in the first book of the omnibus, she's a Terran academic in love with, and beloved by, someone of the Liaden culture. She gets into trouble because she doesn't know what to expect when she enters into that culture. OK, classic fish-out-of-water story, plenty of scope for humor and melodrama. But... but she's a scholar who has specialized in the literature of that culture! Instead of worrying that she doesn't know what to do, she should have been just the opposite, someone who would be making the opposite kind of mistakes, who would actually believe that reading about a culture was enough to equip you to deal with it, only to discover that reality is more subtle than what you expected... that would have been far more realistic; and more fun, to boot.

Secondly, I get irritated (in all the books) at the "pilots are gods" subtext. Being a Pilot matters, only if you have something to pilot, somewhere to go, and some reason to go there.

And yet... I just blew $20 on the hardcover sequel to Fledgling, with the delightful title Saltation. (Being a planetary geologist teaches you so many useful words.) What a strangely constructed book! For a story set at a school, there is no sense of time or its passage; for a coming of age story, is there really no visible sense of growth in the main character (which, for all its flaws, was a real strength of Fledgling). And it ends as if the last three chapters are actually the "teaser" opening chapter for a completely new book. They probably were. I suspect they were included here in because without them, there's no payoff to the story. (Story? There's a story here? Where?)

And yet, it kept me turning the pages. And, yes, I will buy the sequel when inevitably it comes out.

These books do so many things wrong; and I don't even care for the universe or the characters all that much. But something in them has me hooked. Not sure what.

Maybe it's that old sensawonda stuff.

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