Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: Baen, 1994
Series: Book 9 of the Vorkosigan Saga (chronologically)
Awards Won: Hugo and Locus SF Awards

The Book:

“Miles met his clone--a young man raised by rebels to murder and replace him--in Brothers in Arms. Miles insisted that the clone was legally his younger brother, and thus entitled to the name ‘Mark Vorkogian’, but the abused and indoctrinated young man ultimately fled him in distrust.

Some time later, Mark is struggling to come to terms with his past in the cloning creches of Jackson’s Whole.  While his upbringing was a nightmare, it was less horrible than the fate that met all of his childhood friends.  They were raised as bodies to grant immortality to the rich, and their brains were simply discarded at maturity. This is still happening, day after day, and it is a horror that no one is taking any action to stop.  

Mark can do nothing alone, but he knows his well-connected “brother” Miles has a mercenary fleet.  He still believes Miles can’t be trusted... but he was raised to impersonate him. Mark may not have Miles’s strategic ability or experience, but he’s determined to succeed or die trying.” ~Allie  

This is the next book I read via audiobook with my husband.  I think it was pretty accessible, even though my husband had not read any of the other books in the series.  I’d recommend reading Brothers in Arms, first, though, so that you would already know Mark the clone and the details of Miles’s own double identity.

My Review: 3/5

I’m glad that this book forced Miles and his company to do something about Jackson’s Whole, because the whole cloning-immortality setup there was awful.  I get that the hero can’t fix everything about the universe, but I could really sympathize with Mark’s desire to try to address at least this one thing. It was also interesting to read a story featuring Mark and Miles as side-by-side protagonists. They both had such unique voices and personalities, despite the similarities they share.  I’m also glad Mark had a chance to develop his own identity, separate from the idea of being a copy of Miles.

My main reservations about recommending this novel are that it has uneven pacing and potentially disturbing content. The story has a slow start, becomes very intense during the rescue operations on Jackson’s Whole, slows down dramatically as the action moves to Barrayar, and then picks up again later.  The segment on Barrayar was nice as an interlude to show continuing readers what all the minor characters have been up to, but it felt unnecessarily long when considering this novel in isolation. The disturbing content includes torture and sexual assault, and portrayals of intersexual characters and overweight characters that may not be as well received now as they probably were back when it was originally published.
Altogether, I am still enjoying reading the continuing adventures of Miles Vorkosigan and, this time, his brother Mark.  At its high points, the story was exciting, nerve-wracking and occasionally pretty funny. At its low points, the story slows down tremendously to reintroduce minor characters from other Vorkosigan novels. This is not my favorite of the series, but I’m still excited to continue reading about Miles’s adventures!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
Published: Orbit (2017)
Series: Book 7 of the Expanse
Awards Nominated: Locus SF Award

The Book:

In the thousand-sun network of humanity's expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity -- and of the Rocinante -- unexpectedly and forever…” ~WWEnd.com

This is the latest book of the Expanse series, and I read it in a community read-along, from which you can read our spoiler-filled discussions here, here, here, and here.  The 8th book, Tiamat’s Wrath, will be coming out this December.

In other Expanse news, the TV show was picked up by Amazon Prime (after being cancelled by Syfy).  Three cheers for having at least one more season of this fun space opera series!

My Thoughts:

This is the first book to come after a really significant time jump, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.  Persepolis Rising takes place 30 years after the events of Babylon’s Ashes. It makes sense that the threats humanity faces now are slow in coming to fruition, but at the same time this means that we’ve missed 30 years of our heroes’ lives.  The Rocinante crew is still together and tight-knit, but they are now an aging family.  By the time the adventure kicks off, there have been discussions of retirement and end-of-life preferences.  They’re still the same people, still great characters to follow, but there is some existential pain in seeing fictional characters approach the end of life.  This novel does make clear, though, that they aren’t quite yet removing themselves from the center of action, and that there are still miles to go before they sleep.  

Instead of traveling around in the Rocinante righting wrongs, the crew is deprived of their ship and trapped in Medina station.  This story is not one of open conflict, but of resistance against a superior occupying force.  Here we see the crew reaching out to the more extreme OPA factions, and working underground to find anyway they can to undermine the enemy. Persepolis Rising is also the first novel of the final arc of the series, as the threat foreshadowed by the hints of alien civilization-killers in previous novels are now starting to come to the foreground.  I’m excited to see how this will be addressed in the rest of the series, and to see what we might learn about the alien civilization who created the protomolecule.

The non-Rocinante viewpoint characters were not as compelling this time around.  On the Sol System side, we follow Drummer, who is now the head of the Transport Union.  The highlight of her storyline, for me, was the revelation that Chrisjen Avasarala is still alive and relatively healthy.  She’s an amazing character, and I was deeply saddened that she might have died off-page when I saw the large time jump. Other than that, Drummer was attempting to conduct war against an enemy with vastly superior technology, so the story was predictably depressing. Our other point-of-view character, the head of the Laconian occupation, is a terrible person.  I initially thought that he might be included to show the human side of the Laconian group, but he’s just an incompetent and morally bankrupt leader, lacking in any redeeming qualities. I supposed he underlines the fact that the Laconians are short-sighted, cruel, and deserving of whatever karmic justice is coming to them in the rest of the series.

My Rating: 3.5 /5

Persepolis Rising makes a massive time jump, and it was somewhat uncomfortable facing the mortality of the characters I have come to love.  Holden, Naomi and the rest still have adventures ahead, though, and it was exciting to see that the story is finally moving into addressing the implications of the alien technology and the ruins it has left behind.  The Rocinante crew’s story is more claustrophobic than usual, following their resistance efforts in an occupied space station. I enjoyed the change of pace, even though I was less interested in the arcs of the two new viewpoint characters.  I am looking forward to seeing how this series will come to a close!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

News: I Am Still Here

Surprise! I'm still around, and I have not abandoned Tethyan Books.  I have a habit of underestimating how difficult life changes will be, or possibly just of overestimating how smoothly I'll be able to handle them.  These last few months have involved a lot of changes. They're all good changes, but they still take their toll on my time and ability to write book reviews.

I moved to Texas, and with my usual good sense I executed this move in the second half of July.  Yes, I knew Texas was going to be 100+ heat everyday, but I figured I could handle it.  I'd been away from the south long enough to forget what it's like to not be able to walk very long outside.  Anyway, now I am safely air-conditioned inside my new home, and have started my fun new job.

While I haven't had the bandwidth to write, I have still been reading.  I want to review everything I've read in this dead time at some point, but I realize that might not be realistic.  I might revert to shorter-style reviews for a while in order to catch up, because I do want to share what I've loved about the books I've read recently.  For a few words on recent award winners, I was thrilled to see N.K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky take the Hugo and Locus Fantasy awards, as I thought it was just a remarkable book.  Also, I was happy to see John Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire, a fun start to a new series, win the Locus SF award.

That's all for now, and I'll be back with actual book reviews very soon!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Published: Crown Publishers (2017)
Awards Nominated: Prometheus Award

The Book:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself -- and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.” ~WWend.com

After loving The Martian, my husband and I listened to Artemis on audiobook while exercising on training bikes.  The narrator (Rosario Dawson) was excellent, and put a lot of personality and emotion into the main character’s voice.

My Thoughts:

Artemis has some similarities in style to Weir’s hit novel The Martian.  The prose is written in a very casual, conversational way, with lots of jokes and pop cultural references.  The story involves living off the Earth, and the plot relies on creative problem solving. Also, like The Martian, this feels like a good-natured story. By this, I mean that Weir is not aiming for grimness, so you can bet that the main characters are fairly decent people (minor crimes aside), and that things are likely to work out in the end.  As in most problem-solving based stories, the fun is in the journey--in seeing what obstacles will hit Jazz and her friends, and how she will manage to overcome them. In terms of differences, this is a heist story, which necessarily involves the interaction of a larger cast, and it’s set far enough in the future that we get to see a completely new society.

I enjoyed hearing the story from Jazz Bashara’s perspective, because I liked her audacity and her enthusiasm for life.  Jazz may not have the hyper-competence of Mark Watney, but she is quite good at improvisational problem solving. She is also immature and reckless, has a crude sense of humor, and uses a lot of profanity. I found her at turns impressive and frustrating, but always in motion and interesting to follow. As a side note, she is an ex-Muslim woman of Saudi Arabian descent, written by a white man.  I obviously enjoyed her as a character, but I am also coming from an outsider’s view of her family’s culture and religion.

Jazz is a very proactive character, and as a result the story is propelled along at a fast pace.  She’s lured into the heist pretty quickly, and from there it is a constant progression from crisis to crisis.  The urgent present-day story is interspersed with a record of letters to her childhood pen pal. I felt that these letters did a good job of slowly revealing the full motivations behind Jazz’s actions without significantly interrupting the action.  In the present-day story, there’s also a fair amount of scientific explanation--both of the habitat and of stuff like welding and chemistry--but I never felt like it bogged down the action. I’m a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, though, so my tolerance for that sort of thing may be higher than average.  All in all, it was a very entertaining and fast-moving story, and it made the virtual kilometers fly by.

My Rating: 4/5

Artemis is Andy Weir’s latest novel after his popular debut, The Martian. It has a lot in common with his first novel in terms of the writing style, optimism, and focus on science, but it also breaks new ground as a farther-future heist novel on the moon.  I enjoyed the voice of the main character, Jazz Bashara, though she could be pretty impulsive and immature at times. She kept the story moving at a fast-pace, and it was exciting to see how she would deal with each challenge that came her way.  I’ll be interested to see what’s next for Andy Weir.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Published: Hodder & Stoughton (2016)
Series: Book 2 of the Wayfarers
Awards Nominated: Hugo, Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA Awards

The Book:

“Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship’s artificial intelligence system, tasked with caring for the health and wellbeing of her crew, possessing a distinct personality and very human emotions. Now, reactivated and reset, Lovelace finds herself in a synthetic body. She’s gone from being virtually omniscient to limited to a physical existence, in a community where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so isolated. But Lovelace is not alone. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall her program, has remained by her side and is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.
Pepper was born Jane 23, part of a slave class created by a rogue society of genetic engineers. At ten years old, Jane 23 has never seen the sky; she doesn’t even know such a thing exists. But when an industrial accident gives Jane 23 a chance to escape, she takes the opportunity and hides away in a nearby junkyard. Now, having recreated herself as Pepper, she makes it her mission to help Lovelace discover her own place in the world. Huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.” ~https://www.otherscribbles.com

I enjoyed reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, so I was looking forward to picking up A Closed and Common Orbit as well.  It looks like there’s going to be another book in the universe, Record of a Spaceborn Few, coming out in July!

My Thoughts:

A Closed and Common Orbit is a very different style of story than The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  The Long Way was a space-faring slice-of-life story, hopping from one character to the next as they encountered many different parts of this creative universe.  This new story has a much more traditional plot structure, and a tighter focus on the character arcs of its two protagonists. There are two parallel plotlines: one in the present, focusing on Lovelace’s attempt to integrate into society, and another in the past, following Pepper from her unusual origins to her present life.  Their stories are quieter than in the previous book, and take place mostly in a single location. Rather than exploring outer space, we’re exploring the internal struggles of two people who become something different from what their creators had intended.

Lovelace (who chooses the name “Sidra”)  and Pepper’s stories feel thematically linked, in that they are both exploring the immorality of creating sentient life to serve a purpose.  I think it is intuitively clearest in Pepper’s case. The system of creating, using, and eventually killing those human girls in a factory they will never leave is an obvious horror.  The juxtaposition of this story with Sidra’s makes it easier to see the same horror in the creation and use of AIs. Ship AIs are common in science fiction stories, but the slavery of created minds is not often addressed. They are happy in their roles, because they are designed to be.  In this case, they are even designed not to fight oblivion when their users are ready to update to a newer model. Both Sidra and Pepper turn away from the purposes intended by their creators, and they both struggle to adapt to a new life without a predefined meaning. I enjoyed seeing both of them learning how to make sense out of their own existence, and how to find a way to be happy within it.

Sidra and Pepper may spend most of their time in one place, but the novel still shows us more of Chambers’s universe.  Instead of shipboard life, the story explores what daily life is like for people who live permanently in settled communities.  Some of the prejudices and preconceptions of people in general galactic society, particularly regarding artificial intelligences, become more apparent.  There is also further examination of some alien cultures, such as the Aeluon. Overall, I enjoyed learning more about this universe, and I’m glad that this won’t be the last novel to explore it.

My Rating: 5/5

As its title implies, A Closed and Common Orbit introduces a more localized story set in the universe Becky Chambers introduced with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. This one follows two plotlines of characters learning to be something other than what was intended for their life.  The first is Jane 23, a young girl intended to live, work, and die as a slave in a factory. The second is Lovelace, a ship AI that circumstances have pushed into inhabiting an illegal “body kit” instead of a ship interface.  I enjoyed seeing how the two of them find meaning in their new existence, and seeing another side of this interesting far-future universe. I’m looking forward to reading Chambers’s next novel.

Monday, April 23, 2018

TV Musings: Winter 2017-2018

In this series of posts, I’m discussing science fiction and fantasy television I’ve watched recently. There are far too many interesting shows out there for me to keep up, so I tend to have some time lag in the ones I’m watching. Today, I want to talk about two shows that have just gotten started via their first season, and two that have been canceled. I have linked where the shows can be watched online.

Starting Shows

Mars (National Geographic Channel, Season 1): This one is a half-drama/half-documentary about the colonization of Mars.  On the documentary side, there’s a lot of neat information on the recent history of space programs. For instance, I enjoyed seeing interviews with people involved in SpaceX and the efforts to make reusable rockets.  The drama side was sometimes a little dry, but also an interesting exploration of what it might be like for humanity to attempt to build a sustainable habitat on Mars. The planned second season will jump forward in time, to follow the imagined future development of the Mars colony.


The Gifted (Fox, Season 1, free to view): I am a big fan of the X-Men, so I had high hopes for this show.  So far, it appears to be the X-Men show I always wanted.  In this future, the Brotherhood and the X-Men have vanished, and the government has cracked down on mutants.  The viewer is introduced to the world through the Strucker family, who have been privileged enough to never have to care about the ethics of their government’s policies about mutants. This all changes when the two Strucker children display mutant abilities. The Struckers join the mutant underground, a group struggling to help mutants survive (or, according to the government, a “terrorist group”).  The show has an excellent ensemble cast, the special effects are well done, and the writers seem to be very aware of the political environment in which their show will be viewed. I’m looking forward to the second season of this one, and it was my favorite show of the winter.

Ending Shows

Dark Matter (Syfy, Season 3, also available to stream on Netflix): Dark Matter is the story of a crew that woke up one day on their spaceship with no memories.  They reforged bonds with one another and reconstructed their identities, even as they sought to learn who they were before. The show has been canceled after its third season, and finale doesn’t provide much in the way of a conclusion.  I enjoyed watching the show, though its story never quite seemed to find solid footing. The characters felt stronger after the backstory episodes of season two, but the overall plot still lacked a throughline. Is it about a corporate war? Is it about an alien invasion?  Is it about the definition of consciousness? Is it about a Japanese empire’s succession? It’s about all of these things and more, changing from one moment to the next. Each short story was pretty interesting, but they never seemed to come together into a coherent whole. Still, I’m sad that we won’t get to see this one through to a conclusion.


Extinct (BYUtv, Season 1, free to view): Extinct was a science fiction show from Brigham Young TV, but it does not appear to be explicitly Mormon. The show takes place hundreds of years after the human race was wiped out during an alien invasion.  A mysterious benefactor has recorded the biological and mental forms of a collection of humans, and it is recreating them to revive human civilization. Three people--Ezra, Abram and Feena--are awakened to find an emptied settlement and a tribe of humans controlled by alien parasites. They must put the pieces together to find out what has happened to humans who were awakened before them.  I enjoyed how the mystery is slowly revealed over the course of the season, and how the characters are slowly built up through flashbacks to the invasion and their current choices. This show was canceled after a single season, but I would say that the it provides a story with a satisfying conclusion.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review: Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
Published: Tor, 2016
Series: Book 5 of the Craft Sequence

The Book:

“After helping to save Kos Everburning, Tara has remained in the town of Alt Coulomb as a Craftswoman advisor to the church.  Soon, she finds herself in the center of a new crisis. Kos’s love, the moon goddess Seril, was thought to have been killed in the God Wars.  However, Seril Undying has returned, as have her gargoyle children.

The people of Alt Coulomb know Seril only as a scary story to frighten children, so they are not going to easily welcome her return with open hearts.  Her lack of followers makes Seril weak, and Kos’s love for her makes her a liability. Those who do business with Kos point to her as an undisclosed financial risk, and some are using her in a legal battle to overturn Kos’s power. Tara and her friends will need to find a way to protect Seril, Kos and the city from disaster.”~Allie

This is the fifth book in the Craft Sequence that I’ve read, and I intend to keep reading them.  I just recently bought book six, A Ruin of Angels, and Gladstone has shown no sign of leaving the series anytime soon.   

My Thoughts:

On Gladstone’s website, I’ve read that this book is intended to be a finale novel for the “first season” of the Craft Sequence.  It is also the first book of the series that I would call a strict sequel, and it ties together the stories and characters of most of the other Craft books so far. Because of this, I’d recommend that readers check out the other books (at least Three Parts Dead, and ideally also Last First Snow and Two Serpents Rise) before digging into this one.  The story follows up the events in Alt Coulomb of Three Parts Dead, and characters and places from the other two novels also make an appearance.  Full Fathom Five, though, happens chronologically after Four Roads Cross, and thus can be read afterward.  Four Roads Cross doesn’t do a lot of hand-holding with respect to remembering what has come before.  If you’re like me, and it’s been years since you read the first book of the series, it might help to give yourself a quick refresher before starting.

With so many recurring and even some new characters, Four Roads Cross is bursting with different subplots, all going on in parallel.  I read the book slowly, occasionally interrupted by life-related stuff, so it sometimes got hard juggling so many characters and narrative threads. I think it would have flowed better if I’d read the novel at a quicker pace. It may have also made it more difficult that the various subplots were so different in tone.  There was a quiet, domestic story about faith and family, a cop thriller, a crisis of faith in church hierarchy, a quest, and more. All of the plotlines were focused on the same crisis and shared some thematic similarities, but I felt like they never fully merged. However, I enjoyed the commonalities in the stories, such as the exploration of the role religious faith plays in the lives of different kinds of people.

Gladstone’s world is as vibrant and quirky as ever, and his incisive and often hilarious writing style keeps things moving along at a brisk pace.  In some ways, his style is similar to Terry Pratchett, in that humor and references to the fantastical sit comfortably alongside more serious observations about human nature.  For instance, here are the thoughts of the protagonist Tara, addressing the rejection one can find returning one’s hometown with new and unpopular ideas:

“A year ago she stood in a graveyard beneath a starry sky, and the people of her hometown approached her with pitchforks and knives and torches and murder in their mind, all because she’d tried to show them the world was bigger than they thought.  

Admittedly, there might have been a way to show them that didn’t involve zombies.” ~p. 25
 
Tara is one of my favorite characters in the series, for her intelligence and resourcefulness, as well as for the fallibility of her judgment (as evidenced by the zombie incident).  Her story is also very post-grad, dealing with student loans, the fallout from having a predatory academic advisor, and having to choose between pursuing academia or industry-- or in this case, church advising or craft firms.  As someone not too long out of grad-school myself, it is very easy to sympathize with her and her problems. Though I’m focusing on Tara here, plenty of other fascinating characters return in this novel, such as the former-addict Cat, the vampire pirate Raz, the gargoyles, and the skeletal Craftsman The King in Red, among others.  On the more ordinary side, we also get a peek into the lives of a handful of people who sell at the local market. All of these characters have an important role to play in the crisis coming to Alt Coulomb, and it was a lot of fun to see how each story came to a conclusion.

My Rating: 4/5

Four Roads Cross is a direct sequel to Three Parts Dead, and it also incorporates characters and places from the other books of the series.  The novel concerns the return of the goddess Seril, Kos’s love, and the crisis that her current weakness may bring about for the city of Alt Coulomb.  It features a lot of familiar characters (Tara, Cat, Raz, Abelard, Caleb, etc…) as well as some new faces. Different sets of characters are involved in a variety of plotlines, each of which feels different in tone, though they all address the same crisis.  There’s a ton going on in this novel, and plenty of characters to keep straight. It’s worth the effort, though, and I enjoyed the time I have spent in Gladstone’s unusual world of economics, faith, and magic. Overall, it felt like a fitting finale for the story that began in Three Parts Dead, and I am happy to know that it isn’t going to be the final novel of the Craft Sequence.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Short Fiction: December 2017

For my final post on 2017 short fiction, I’d like to recommend two interesting fantasy novelettes from Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  Both are from authors that are new to me!

Low Bridge! Or The Dark Obstructions by M. Bennardo (Novelette, BCS): This story left the “Erie Canal Song” stuck in my head for days, but that’s not the only reason it stayed in my mind. It follows the journey of a newly married couple on the Erie Canal, while both of them are still finding their way in their new relationship.  It doesn’t help the situation when an obnoxious passenger gets on the wrong side of the young wife. The story is only very mildly fantasy, but belief in the supernatural is a topic of conversation. I really enjoyed the interesting characters and the vivid historical setting.

Trette’s Bones by Grace Seybold (Novelette, BCS): The main character in this story lives in a town that feels like something out of a dream.  “Normal” life to the people there is extremely strange--at various times in their lives they sacrifice their own bones at the Ossuary, receiving “ghostflesh” in exchange.  There are also rules about the patterns formed by buildings and roads, and they have strict ways of dealing with outsiders. Trette is the one who pushes the logic of their town farther than others are willing to go, and who therefore brings about unexpected consequences.  The setting and the atmosphere were major strengths of the story, and this is not one where all the questions are answered in the end.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
Published: 1999 (Tor Books)
Series: Book 2 of Zones of Thought
Awards Nominated: Arthur C. Clarke, Locus SF, and Nebula Awards
Awards Won: Campbell, Hugo, and Prometheus Awards

The Book:

“Representatives of two human civilizations have come to explore the system of the mysterious “OnOff star”, which rekindles for only 35 of every 250 years.  The first are the Qeng Ho, a far-flung and loose-knit starfaring society of traders. The second are the Emergents, an empire whose power rests on the backs of the “focused”, humans whose minds and bodies are enslaved to serve the higher castes.  They both see the planet orbiting the OnOff star as a source of potential wealth, so cooperation between two groups with such drastically different ideologies may be impossible.

The other players in this tale are the inhabitants of the planet--a sentient spider-like species that goes dormant for each long darkness of their sun.  Their society develops as the humans lurk out of sight, and what role they might play is the least predictable element in human schemes many decades in the making.” ~Allie

I chose to read this book because I generally like Vernor Vinge, it received many awards, and I also enjoyed A Shadow Upon the Deep (which I read before I began this blog).

My Thoughts:

It’s a really big coincidence that I ended up reading two books about sentient spider civilizations relatively close together (this one and Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time), especially given my strong aversion to spiders. However, the two books take very different approaches to spider civilization.  Tchaikovsky developed his spider civilization based on non-sentient spider behavior and the strengths and limitations of their biology.  Vinge, on the other hand, heavily anthropomorphized his spiders (explicitly so, through the translation of the human characters). The first approach highlights the differences and natural revulsion between humans and spiders, while the second approach aims to make the spiders seem approachable and familiar.  The one way this backfired for me was just that the spiders didn’t initially feel very alien--and I like societies that feel alien--so it didn’t catch my interest right away.  On the other hand, it also made it a lot easier to build emotional attachment to the spider characters.

As the story progresses, the reader sees more of the spider culture and how it is shaped by their environment.  The activity of the OnOff star makes for an unusual planet, where every living thing has to go dormant for hundreds of years on each off-cycle.  It was interesting to see the significance their culture attached to the cycles, and to see how the particular challenges of their world would influence the direction of their scientific progress.  I really like seeing fictional societies develop science, so this part of the story was a lot of fun. On the other side, there are also two unusual spacefaring human societies to learn about. This part played more or less like horror for me, since we were seeing a clash between a society that valued human rights, and one that was built on a foundation of slavery and mind control.

The spiders’ story seemed to move at a pretty rapid pace, but the human story was a tense and claustrophobic game of intrigue that played out slowly.  Both groups had a lot to gain and a lot to lose, and both were planning to get their way through careful manipulation. This long game also allowed for time to develop and explore the main characters and their histories, and I enjoyed learning about them and seeing parts of Qeng Ho history they’d lived through. There were some bits of the story that were really disturbing to read (violence, sexual violence, the idea of focus), but these parts were always portrayed as horrific.  All in all, it was a story with very clear good guys and bad guys, and I was satisfied with how everything came out in the end.

My Rating: 4.5/5

A Deepness in the Sky is an exciting far-future story of space-faring human civilizations as well as an interesting arachnid-like alien culture.  The story involves the technological development of the arachnid society on a planet that revolves a star which mysteriously turns on and off within a regular 250 cycle.   The represented human societies include one that values free trade, and another that values mind control and slavery, so it is always obvious which side is the ‘bad guys’. The spiders’ story was one of scientific discovery and adventure, while the human story was one of fear, careful schemes, and long-term manipulation.  Everything comes together very well in the end, making this yet another Vinge novel that I have enjoyed reading.