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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Three Disappointing Recent SF Novels, "Burning Paradise, The One Eyed Man and Ancillary Justice" (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

Two read as I really love the style of RC Wilson and LE Modesitt, but in both cases the content was utterly banal stuff I've seen tons of times, while the third, by Ann Leckie, had great advertised content and seemed to tick all the right boxes, but it was a mess as writing goes with stilted prose and no narrative momentum that I only flipped through and decided that it was just not for me.

Below I present the covers, blurbs, short thoughts - summarized above - and recommendations for similar but better - imho - novels.

"Cassie Klyne, nineteen years old, lives in the United States in the year 2015—but it’s not our United States, and it’s not our 2015.

Cassie’s world has been at peace since the Great Armistice of 1918. There was no World War II, no Great Depression. Poverty is declining, prosperity is increasing everywhere; social instability is rare. But Cassie knows the world isn’t what it seems. Her parents were part of a group who gradually discovered the awful truth: that for decades—back to the dawn of radio communications—human progress has been interfered with, made more peaceful and benign, by an extraterrestrial entity. That by interfering with our communications, this entity has tweaked history in massive and subtle ways. That humanity is, for purposes unknown, being farmed.

Cassie’s parents were killed for this knowledge, along with most of the other members of their group. Since then, the survivors have scattered and gone into hiding. Cassie and her younger brother Thomas now live with her aunt Nerissa, who shares these dangerous secrets. Others live nearby. For eight years they have attempted to lead unexceptional lives in order to escape detection. The tactic has worked.

Until now. Because the killers are back. And they’re not human."

Disappointing novel from RC Wilson - author of the superb Spin trilogy (FBC Rv Book 3) or of Julian Comstock (FBC Rv); the writing style that made the author such a favorite is still there - narrative flow, page turner - but the storyline and characters fell flat; I never could suspend disbelief about the main conceit of the novel with the alive radio-sphere and its sims, while the characters lacked any of the subtlety from earlier books and the twists were seen from a long way.

Overall Burning Paradise turned into one man and one girl race to save the world - or maybe doom it as the book has some subtlety in its message of "do we need aliens to keep the peace?" - which is something that has been done to exhaustion in sf, while the rest of the world simply is not there, just shadows on the wall so to speak, no texture, no sense of place...

Recent similar theme novels that were more interesting: Napier Bones (FBC Rv) by Derryl Murphy or The Rapture by Liz Jensen.


"The colony world of Stittara is no ordinary planet. For the interstellar Unity of the Ceylesian Arm, Stittara is the primary source of anagathics: drugs that have more than doubled the human life span. But the ecological balance that makes anagathics possible on Stittara is fragile, and the Unity government has a vital interest in making sure the flow of longevity drugs remains uninterrupted, even if it means uprooting the human settlements.

Offered the job of assessing the ecological impact of the human presence on Stittara, freelance consultant Dr. Paulo Verano jumps at the chance to escape the ruin of his personal life. He gets far more than he bargained for: Stittara’s atmosphere is populated with skytubes—gigantic, mysterious airborne organisms that drift like clouds above the surface of the planet. Their exact nature has eluded humanity for centuries, but Verano believes his conclusions about Stittara may hinge on understanding the skytubes’ role in the planet’s ecology—if he survives the hurricane winds, distrustful settlers, and secret agendas that impede his investigation at every turn."

The One Eyed Man is another recent sf novel that was so-so - enough interesting stuff to keep going and an author I really enjoy as his Imager series (FBC Rv of all 7 books to date) is on my all time list, but I have seen the content millions times and this book had nothing special either - content this time being alien world, "alien aliens", humans not understanding them and doing by stupidity/malice stuff that may throw everything out of balance and wreck the world etc etc - even the title is an obvious hint as the hero is the "one eyed man in the country of the blind" - see Embassytown by China Mieville (FBC Rv) for a celebrated recent example, Disestablishment of Paradise by Philip Mann for another...


"On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch."

I thought the writing in Ancillary Justice was stilted and the book had no narrative momentum; it ticked all the right boxes true, but when the writing style doesn't work, it doesn't work...

A recent similar novel that was more interesting: Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach (Aaron) (FBC Rv soon)


Sarah Negovetich said...

I've had a hard time finding good new SciFi lately, so thanks for the recommendations. I keep waiting for SciFi to really hit the YA scene.

John said...


Curious about your take on Ancillary Justice,most other SFF bloggers were gushing with praise for it,would really like to know why it didn't work for you as i was looking forward to reading it.


Liviu said...

Writing style which lacks rhythm and narrative flow and is very "start and stop"

Anonymous said...

You misspelled disappointing.

Liviu said...

corrected; thanks for the notice

Tarun Ramakrishna said...

Did you finish Ancillary justice or just part of it ? It is the most original Sci-Fi I have read this year and intensely captivating after a slow start. Yes, it does't fit into the dramatic soap-opera mould and reads more like a CJ Cherryh book, but saying it is disappointing is very grave injustice to the book.

Liviu said...

that's what difference in opinions/taste are for; one's gem is another's unreadable stuff

Andrew Fish said...

Agree with you wholeheartedly on the first book, am half way there on the second (I like Modesitt's books generally) and could not disagree more on Ancillary Justice - also don't agree that Rachel Bach's book is "similar" to Ancillary justice. Rachel's book is similar to the Vatta Series by Elizabeth Moon (and many others in the same mould), but certainly not Ancillary Justice. But as you say, each person has their own tastes.

Liviu said...

As indication of taste goes, I kind of found the Vatta series very meh and I had big troubles suspending disbelief with the socio-political setup there, while I think that Fortune's pawn is very straightforward mil-space opera of the modern kind and Ancillary Justice wants to be also modern space opera with a military component, though I agree that it is more "exotic"

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