February 2nd, 2003

rivka as ww

Reviews and First Lines

Patricia Briggs, Dragon Blood. As coffeeandink said, this sequel to Dragon Bones isn’t as good. Dragon Bones told the story of Ward Hurog, the heir to a small but important part of a kingdom. Because Ward had feigned stupidity to avoid his brutal father’s wrath, he had a hard time proving himself fit to rule when his father died. In Dragon Blood, everybody understands that Ward’s a good, competent guy, and so the interesting conflict is gone. The story just sort of plods along. It also bothers me a bit that the homosexual characters are all bad guys (the exception, who really wants to be sleeping with his wife rather than another man, is a victim of molestation and dark magic to bind him to the bad guy, and so I’m thinking he doesn’t count). This isn’t really fair of me, because I don’t think Briggs is homophobic and I don’t think all gay/bi characters have to be good, but it just makes me nervous.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books include one in which a man is coerced into sex with other men, by drugs and not magic, but it doesn’t bother me so much because many of the characters are comfortable with polymorphous perversity. The patriarchal Barrayarans aren’t generally, but they’re backwards folks being dragged into the fiftieth (or whatever) century by the recently reestablished contact with other worlds, some of which are very strange, to Barrayarans and to us. I like Bujold’s style. She has a real gift for putting heroic quips in characters’ mouths, and when a bad guy’s head is cut off, his last words are “You can’t --“instead of a complete sentence. There are very few Evil Overlords about; indeed, one of the things I liked most about Diplomatic Immunity, the most recent book in the series and also the most recently written, is that the bad guy is really clever, thinks of lots of fallback plans, and is not easily defeated at all. Go space opera!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer script books are up to Season 2, vol. 3 of 4 now. They’re great to have around, because the writing is fantastic, but it’s sad that the typos and spelling errors haven’t been corrected. Sure, I’d like insight into the process, but that’s a little too much insight. Exception made for the direction “FITE! FITE! FITE!”

The West Wing Script Book, by contrast, has six chosen episodes, rather than a complete set. The scripts have much less direction to the actors than the BtVS scripts, though both are dialogue-intensive. It turns out that I like reading BtVS scripts better, because the actors on WW are relatively more important to my enjoyment of the dialogue than the actors on BtVS.

Steven Brust, The Paths of the Dead is set long before the time of Vlad Taltos (pronounced Taltosh), one of the best characters in modern fantasy. Vlad will be a human thief in an elvish world, though the elves call themselves human, which is a great detail. Anyhow, this book purports to be a history of a time before Vlad, but it turns out that I only like Vlad. Well, I like Sethra Lavode, a sorceress who will know Vlad later in life and who plays a role here, but the style of the book made me sick. It’s a conscious decision by Brust to write in a slow, precious style, where the characters constantly repeat themselves and engage in other verbal tics that often end with “I hardly think I have been asking anything else for the last hour!” when a questionee finally restates a question asked a page ago. That it’s conscious doesn’t make it tolerable. Apparently, Brust intends to write at least one more book in this manner, and I doubt I’ll buy it even in softcover. I want more Vlad! People who want a great fantasy world with a funny, engagingly flawed protagonist should check out Jhereg and the other Vlad books, which are being reissued in double editions, or To Reign in Hell, Brust’s spectacular version of Paradise Lost. But skip this one.

Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Federation is the book with the hilarious ramming scene, of which I was reminded by the latest Star Trek movie. The ramming scene is as great as I remembered, complete with Geordi calling up from Engineering, asking what just happened, and, upon getting the response, asking “No, really, what just happened?” The rest of the book didn’t move me much. It’s a Zefrem Cochrane story, crossing over between TOS and TNG, and it’s been Jossed (Gened?) to hell and back by one of the TNG movies. I can’t really recommend it unless you’re a real fan of Zefrem. Or, you know, books in which one spaceship rams another.

Which is actually a good transition to C.S. Forester, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. It’s evident why the Hornblower books are often cited as predecessors of Star Trek & similar spaceship-heavy worlds; the resource constraints, risks and human psychology at sea transfer easily to space. This book, which chronicles Hornblower’s earliest days at sea, is good clean fun, though chock full of British prejudices towards the French and the Spanish. Hornblower is a little too self-deprecating for my tastes, though he gives good angst.

Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark, is a fascinating, unpredictable book about an autistic man in the midterm future, forced by his penny-pinching company to choose whether to take a treatment that may cure his autism but that may (also) destroy him as he exists now. Moon creates a plausible world, with bureaucratic and legal rules that ring sometimes disturbingly true, and the narrator is incredibly interesting. He does have a Temple Grandin-like feel (Moon has an autistic child and apparently did a ton of research) and the story makes his constraints, and his choices, feel real and important.

And now, the first lines/paragraphs meme, in no particular order. These are books I reread, which is as good a criterion as any:

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