Monday, August 25, 2003

I read Kevin J. Anderson's A Forest of Stars this weekend. This is the second book in his Saga of Seven Suns series, which began with last year's Hidden Empire. That book was a decent light read, although I found Anderson's characters a bit wooden and his tendency for cute allusions and references gets annoying after a while. The big problem with Hidden Empire was that it felt like five hundred pages of set-up, with Anderson taking forever to simply get all of the pieces in the right positions.

No such problem afflicts A Forest of Stars, which is a much better read than the earlier book. It's still light space-opera, with galactic conflicts, apocalyptic battles, ancient alien artifacts, a King and his scheming ministers, a society loosely based on Gypsies, a society of religious mystics, and aliens who are basically uncorking the galaxy's biggest can of "Whoop-ass" on the humans.

The model is still George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. Anderson gives us lots of short chapters, each from the viewpoint of a different character. Even the title A Forest of Stars mirrors Martin's titles in his concurrent fantasy masterpiece. Anderson still lacks, though, Martin's skill at characterization, so a lot of the book seems more plot-driven than character driven. Most times that's not a problem, but there are spots where certain developments seem awfully convenient, such as a pivotal discovery made by a character who has gone off alone into space for personal reasons. Anderson's main skill, as always, is in using words to convey the visual sense of what's going on in his story. If this book were made into a movie correctly, it would be eye-candy of the highest order. I'd love to see those huge, diamond-hulled Hydrogue war-globe starships.

The story of the entire series involves a titanic war that began when humans used an alien device to ignite a gas-giant planet into a star, unaware of the beings called Hydrogues who live in the depths of the gas giants. It's a lot more complicated than that, and by the end of A Forest of Stars, there are four new and previously-unknown alien races on the scene, relegating humans to the status of mice on the battlefield.

The third book in this series should be out next summer, and there is a prequel graphic novel coming out this winter. This isn't a great series, by any means, but as space opera I actually find it preferable to, say, the military SF of David Weber. Sometimes you just want a big, galaxy-spanning tale of aliens and war and love and political machination, and that's what Anderson's delivering.

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