Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Blasters and spaceships, oh my!

I don't know what it is, but for some reason, in the warmer months my reading tastes gravitate strongly toward science fiction (and the occasional horror book). I associate fantasy with the cooler months. Why this is, I've never really figured out; I've read many a fantasy novel set in warm locales, so it's not as if the cooling weather puts me in mind of the snowy journeys through the Misty Mountains in The Lord of the Rings. This isn't to say that I won't read any fantasy at all during the warm periods, but...well, summer is when I want lots of exploding spaceships.

So, here's the skinny on three space opera books I've read of late!

:: The first was, technically, a re-read of The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is the first novel in the ongoing saga of Miles Vorkosigan, one of the most famous characters in contemporary SF. I read this book before, several years ago, and I enjoyed it, but for one reason or another I never continued with the Vorkosigan series. No real reason why, really; I just never got around to it until I'd reached a point where I figured that if I was going to continue with the series, I should just start over.

The Warrior's Apprentice starts with Miles Vorkosigan undergoing the final physical trial he needs to complete before he can enter the military service of Barrayar, his homeworld. Barrayar places supreme importance on its military, but getting in will be difficult for Miles, because he is physically disabled. He is barely five feet tall, and his bones are extremely brittle and prone to breaking. Sure enough, he breaks both his legs in the first minutes of the trial, and Miles is forced to take on the life of a mercenary.

He actually isn't really forced into that life, per se, so much as he just kind of steps into one situation after another that causes a mercenary crew to just naturally gravitate toward him. It's a fascinating thing that Bujold does here: she depicts a character with enormous personal magnetism who uses it to his advantage without ever really seeming totally aware of it.

The Miles Vorkosigan tales aren't "sensawunda" space operas; they're as character-driven as just about any story can be. I look forward to reading more of them.

:: Starpilot's Grave, by Debra Doyle and James MacDonald, is the second book in their "Mageworlds" series. The adventures of Beka Rosselin-Metadi continue, along with her various friends from the first book, The Price of the Stars. The earlier book established a galaxy that is post-war, a war against a group of villains hailing from 'the Mageworlds'. Here, Doyle and MacDonald set up the resumption of those hostilities, and by the end of the book, war has broken out again, with our heroine, Beka Rosselin-Metadi, assuming a leadership rule. Not a whole lot that happens in this book is a surprise, as it is clearly setting up the third act in the trilogy. It's all somewhat Star Wars-like, in general feel, and it's a fun read that isn't terribly demanding. My main complaint, as with Price of the Stars, is that there is still little explanation as to who the Mages actually are or why they are to be feared. I hope this is explained more in the final volume.

:: Finally, John Scalzi's The Last Colony was the third and final book in his Old Man's War trilogy, until he went and added a fourth book, making it not a trilogy anymore. Oh well. As with the first two books, this is a fast-paced and involving read that suggests a whole bunch of nifty Sfnal questions without slowing the pace enough to delve into answers. We rejoin our heroes from the first novel, John Perry and his wife Jane Sagan, who have adopted a girl named Zoe from the second book. They are asked by the Colonial government to head up a secret colony whose location is to be kept secret...because, it turns out, an alliance of aliens is systematically destroying colonies they deem to be "unauthorized". Lots of hilarity ensues: resistance against the aliens, coupled with the fact that they can no longer rely on their own government to be honest with them or give them aid.

Some of my key questions about this whole universe, dating back to Old Man's War, are finally explained, which is nice, and Scalzi gets a pot boiling quite nicely, creating a definite sense of tension as he depicts on the one hand an alien force that seems well nigh unstoppable and on the other depicts a group of colonists struggling to find an answer to a problem that is seemingly unsolvable. My main issue with the book lies with the nature of the final solution itself; in all honesty, it kind of seems to come out of left field and only barely manages to avoid feeling like an outright deus ex machina. But it's my understanding that some of this background is explained in a fourth book in the series, which focuses on the Perrys' daughter, Zoe.

More space opera to come!

3 comments:

Lynn said...

Most space opera movies come out in the summer. That could be the reason you associate space opera with summer.

mad photog said...

Bujold is one of THOSE writers. I first read "Shards of Honor" when it first came out & I vowed to buy & read whatever she wrote after that.
WA is an excellent start to the series. You'll love it.
I haven't read the second book you mentioned, but I'll get on it.
I really like Scalzi's style. in anything he's written. The fourth book in the OMW series really fills in the plot holes & hand-waving in "The Last Colony". Scalzi does say that LC would be about twice as long and not as good if he'd done all the explaining he needed to do. He tried to get away with it & his readers wouldn't let him. "Zoe's Tale" is also good because it's told from a teenage girl POV, an experiment that works well.
Thanks for the post!

Gus

Kerry said...

This has your name written all over it.

http://www.npr.org/2011/08/02/138894873/vote-for-top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-titles