Brief Book Reviews

A collection of book reviews, anywhere from 50 to 500 words.

Alanna: The First Adventure -- Tamora Pierce (rating: 7/10)
This is an interesting read if you're looking for something to divert you for a little while. It's not the sort of thing I normally read, but I seem to be on a fantasy kick at the moment. However, it does have some things that I seriously dislike. First off, the ending. I despise most authors who don't write books that stand alone. If you are writing your serieses, your books should have endings that bring closure and stand for themselves. This book doesn't. The last page, instead of reading "the end" as in most books, reads "the beginning". This just served to draw my attention to a practice that I already hate, and colored the rest of my perceptions of the book. Second, the culture. This is a girlpretends-to-be-boy book (hey, at least the plot has the advantage of being steeped in tradition), but it doesn't seem to want to go through with all the required cultural baggage of a plot like this. The people who discover Alanna's real gender do not react with a nearly appropriate level of prejudice, at least not in the first book. Any culture that is so male driven that it requires a girl to act as a man should be much more prejudiced than this one seems to be. If you feel the need for a girl-as-boy plot, there are better reasons for the required change, and other books that have done a better job: see Piers Anthony's _Refugee_, and Terry Pratchett's _monstrous regiment_.

And the Devil Will Drag You Under -- Jack L. Chalker (rating: 8/10)
I'm a sucker for framed tales, as well as for morrality in my fiction. This book contains plenty of both. It's thoughtful, yet easy to read, with an interesting and fun plot and characters. The message, on power and society, is a powerful one. The point it makes isn't new, and I'm sure it's been made many times before in fiction, but this is still an original take and worth the read.

Balshazzar's Serpent -- Jack L. Chalker (rating: 8/10)
Good grief, does this book ever have a Christian message. I'm a Christian myself, so I didn't find it objectionable (although I suspect if I were a different brand of Christianity I would have), but the average reader probably wouldn't be a fan of this. Even I was a little taken aback at it's extent, being so used to not finding this sort of thing in my science fiction. The plot is standard stuff, but with the religious overtones. As I say, I didn't mind,

but it's the largest part of the experience, and anyone going into this book needs to prepare themselves for it.

Beggars in Spain -- Nancy Kress (rating: 6/10)
I originally came across this title on an online list of the top 200 science fiction novels of all time. As with most lists of that sort, most of the novels that made it were so litterary as to be unreadable. While this particular title wasn't, in my opinion, one of the best of all time, it was worthwhile. The characters are believable and well done, and they grow and change throughout the book. This is classic science fiction in that it takes one what-if (what if some people no longer had to sleep?) and runs with it, fleshing out all of the many implications of that change. In a time when most science fiction tries to build a complete world, the consintration on this one what-if is refreshing. The changes that it causes, and the resulting plot, are well thought out. This is not a space opera. But it is quality sf.

Calculating God -- Robert J. Sawyer (rating: 8/10)
This book made me think about a lot of things. In the field of science fiction, religion is most often something to be scorned and laughed at, mostly through heavy handed pokes at the Catholic church. While I'd agree that Christianity has a set of major problems, I think most readers and writers of science fiction are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That's what makes _Calculating God_ so interesting: it takes a new and fresh look at creationism. Oh, basic religious issues have been looked at before, but the treatments that I've seen have been confined to the classic Adam-and-Eve storyline, or to the tiny genre of Christian science fiction. Yeah, there are books in this genre, and the fact that you've most likely never heard of them proves my point. _calculating God_, however, isn't particularly Christian; the ending proves the fact beyond all doubt. It manages to make points about the existence of God, and our societies views on the matter, without preaching one religion or another. This is not a book to be read for plot or characters. In fact, it's seriously lacking on both those fronts. As with most of Soier's work, I think it would be happier as a popular nonfiction text. Still, the quality of the ideas was heigh enough to make up for the lack in...well, everything else.

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls -- Robert Heinlein (rating: 5/10)
The first half of this book is just as good as anything Heinlein ever wrote. However, the second half leaves something to be desired. I mean, *really* leaves something to be desired. While it isn't as confusing as the ending of _to sail beyond the sunset_, it makes up for this with the fact that it *really sucks*. When you start coming across many characters you recognize from other books, it's time to stop reading. Make up your own ending if you must. You'll be happier.

Codgerspace -- Alan Dean Foster (rating: 6/10)
This is not a particularly excelent book, but it's not a bad one, either. The plot gets off to an extremely slow start, sounding at first more like a history text than anything else. Then it goes through several side characters before getting on to introducing the main plot of the book. The AI revolt plot that was so carefully developed is then completely cast aside in favour of an alien artifact plot. It felt somewhat abrupt to me. However, the writing is good, the characters are okay, and the story is interesting. While it's not all that good of a book, it's not bad, either.

Dragonflight -- Anne McCaffrey (rating: 5/10)
This book was my introduction to pern. Honestly, it didn't do that good of a job; I doubt I will ever be back. The story wasn't captivating, the characters were poorly developed, the dragons were developed even less, and the whole thing couldn't decide what sort of atmosphere it wanted to settle on. I'm guessing the author intended the dragons to be wonderful and loyal companions, but for me they held a near constant air of vaguely creepy mind-controlling symbiosis. Needless to say, this broke the story for me. If what you're looking for is strong and well done companion characters, I recommend Mercedes Lacky highly to you; she may not have been first, but she knows what to do with characters and how to develop feeling in the reader.

Friday -- Robert Heinlein (rating: 9/10)
Friday is the second best book Heinlein ever wrote. It has strong, believable and likable characters; unlike most of Heinlein's other female characters, Friday has an excuse for her superwoman complex, and the skills she gains do not come without considerable cost. It makes strong and important statements about humanity, racial issues, business, and politics. It also contains, not by the authors design, the best treatment of sexual issues Heinlein ever managed. It also clearly shows the way Heinlein's character changed in the 70s; when the “boss” dies, the mission is never completed. In Heinlein’s earlier years, this probably wouldn’t have been the case.

Heroics for Beginners -- John Moore (rating: 3/10)
This book tries so, so hard to be funny. Unfortunately, it fails. This is probably because the author is unable to detect the fine difference between funny and silly. The difference is hard to explain. The problem this book has is that all the jokes it tries to make are old and overused. Everyone has seen how silly the things the author pokes fun at are, and has

already laughed about them. Now they're just silly; all the fun has been removed by other and better authors.

I Will Fear No Evil -- Robert Heinlein (rating: 4/10)
Yes, I do intend to get on with a review of this book. First, however, I feel the need to take a couple other people to task. I'll start with the statement by another reviewer: "worst. heinlein. ever." This is a misconception on the part of many. This isn't bad Heinlein, it's bad editors. At the time of writing, Robert Heinlein was quite sick. Thus, most of the work of proofing and editing his work, as well as most of the business and accounting, had to be handled by his wife. While I'm sure she was an excelent person, she wasn't the master, and had no idea how and when to cut. Also, now that Heinlein was a huge money maker, publishers were afraid to stand up and do the cutting themselves, especially after their many mistakes in the past. The second thing I feel the need to say is: worst. summery. ever. Did the person writing the summery of this book read the end of the book? If they had, they would have realized that (SPOILER COMING) the main character *can't* buy everything with his money. he *dies*! In fact, through nearly the entire book, it is clearly shown how little money does, and how little it matters to the main character. Last but not least, Heinlein did not somehow "become" a dirty old man. It just took until 1970 or so before his editors were willing to put up with all the sex. For proof, see _for us, the living_, the first (until now unpublished) book Heinlein ever wrote. Right, now...about the book itself. Honestly? Unless you're already a huge Heinlein fan, don't bother. It has a point (sort of), but it's nearly drowned in the huge swath of writing. The plot is slow, the characters aren't as well done as they could be, and this is one of the worst Heinlein books. It should be included on the same blacklist as _to sail beyond the sunset_ and _for us, the living_.

Monstrous Regiment -- Terry Pratchett (rating: 8/10)
This book is one of the darker discworld novels. However, it does serve as a brilliant twist on the girl-as-boy standard plot, poking fun at societies and the plot device itself. That's all I can say about that and still honestly keep this review no spoilers. The discworld series is one of those that is improving with age. If you haven't yet read this book, even if you've never read any discworld book before, I think you'll enjoy it.

Old Man’s War -- John Scalzi (rating: 9/10)
This book is wonderful! It's one of the few modern books that has managed to make me really excited about current SF. Some have complained that this author sounds a little bit

too much like Heinlein (Starship Troopers, especially), but I don't at all see how that's a complaint; the world needs more Heinlein's. Anyway, Old Man's War is better written and pased than Starship Troopers ever comes close to being. Yes, it starts slow, but come on. It starts out with a bunch of 75 year olds; how fast do you expect things to move? Anyhow, it needs the slow start to build up important ideas that relate to the rest of the plot. The characters are all interesting, the plot has some original twists, and the writing is as good as Heinlein's. What more do you want? I look forward to seeing much more from this author in the near future.

Podkayne of Mars -- Robert Heinlein (rating: 6/10)
Robert Heinlein, throughout his history of writing "boys books", struggled with editorship. Much of his books for young adults were modified by request of prim publishers and scandalized librarians to ensure that they included nothing even in the least "damaging" to young minds. As a result, it's a miracle that these books turned out as well as they did. This particular book, however, suffered the most damaging change. Before publishing, Heinlein was told that he would have to change the ending. That one stroke completely changed the vision of the work. I will avoid details of the change in order not to include spoilers, and I won't say I agree with the vision of the book as it was originally written (I don't think I do), but if you want the point of the book as Heinlein intended it, you need to track down the most recent baen edition. It includes both endings side by side, allowing you to contrast them and pick one for yourself.

Powers that Be -- Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (rating: 7/10)
I really enjoyed the setting of this book; based loosely on reality, the surrounding environment and community is powerful and well shown. The characters are interesting and believable, and the premise of the book works well. Unfortunately, the resolution is just a little far fetched and fantastic for my taste. However, it's still worth the read. You'll enjoy every minute you spend getting there, just beware that at the end you may find you did not enjoy where you got.

Refugee -- Piers Anthony (rating: 9/10)
I think the reason many people rate this book so low is because they take the time to think about what they just read, or even worse are rating things they read years ago. The problem with this is that Piers Anthony is a master of suspension of disbelief. If you think about any of his plots even a little bit after you read them, the magic is gone. However, while you're reading Refugee, it grabs you. You think nothing of sword fights in space and gravity lenses and bubbles and passifiers and any number of other patently outragious things that have a place in this book. They're just...right. They fit together, they obey a logical set of rules, everything is explained, and the characters (the most

important part of any book) are believable. This book also, like all other books by Piers Anthony, makes several morrality statements. This time they're on sexuality, survival, and American foreign polacy. As I agree with Anthony's political views, I don't find them objectionable. However, conservatives will probably find that they take away from the book; you might even want to go so far as to give this entire series a pass.

Sheepfarmer's Daughter -- Elizabeth Moon (rating: 6/10)
Paksenarrion is the typical strong warrier woman in this fantasy novel that tries really, really hard to be epoch. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite make it. I'm not saying it's a bad book, and if you enjoy epoch fantasy you'd probably get a kick out of it. However, by the end of the book it starts to feel like the same old fantasy stuff that we've read time and time again, accept instead of a strong masculin male character it's happening to a strong masculine female character. It's got battles, magic, and a main character who can do no wrong. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you'll find this the stuff of legends. For the rest of us, it's an ok read...but you've probably got better things to do.

The Ship Who Searched -- Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey (rating: 7/10)
I've noticed a strong pattern in all of the Anne McCaffrey books I've tried to read. If she wrote the book herself, I never like it. If, however, the book has a co-author, I usually find it at least good. This book, co-authord by an author who's solo works I've already liked and read, is excelent. I've read all of the other books in the ship series, and this is by far the best of the bunch. If you don't plan on reading the entire series, at least read this book. It stands just fine by itself; don't worry that it's book 3. The rest of the series isn't bad either, but I could take it or leave it.

Time Enough for Love -- Robert Heinlein (rating: 9/10)
This is almost universally accepted as Heinlein's best book. A framed story similar to the style of Arabian nights, it manages to keep the overarching plot moving along while including many other interesting stories. _the tale of the adopted daughter_, one of the tales told, is in my opinion the most touching thing ever to be written in a science fiction novel and the best part of the book. Either this means that I secretly want to read westerns, or I'm extremely sappy. Honestly, I'd rather not analyse it, thanks.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset -- Robert Heinlein (rating: 5/10)
When God was handing out the photographic memories, he ran out just before he got to me. This is unfortunate, as the point of To Sail Beyond the Sunset seems to be to cram in

every single character, important or unimportant, that ever appeared even once in the future history series. It feels almost like fanfiction. If I had been propperly provided for in the memory department, maybe I would have enjoyed the tremendous lists of characters that make up most of the ending of this book. However, I wasn't and didn't. If you're going to read this book, just stop when you get lost: it will only go downhill. The reason you should read it is for the same reason you should read _Time Enough for Love_: the biographical aspect. It's full of stories and pictures that bring alive a past age and a fictional woman, and make you wish that in the real world that sort of spirit would extend more than skin deep.

Trading in Danger -- Elizabeth Moon (rating: 7/10)
This review is going to be a demonstration of reviewer bias, I guess. When I reviewed _sheepfarmers daughter_, I wasn't particularly impressed because it was typical fantasy, and that's not really my thing. However, this book is typical space opera, and that is my thing. I personally enjoyed it. Until reading the review just below mine, I even thought the plot was a new one. Yes, I know, I know: I'm probably the only SF fan in the entire history of the universe not to have read anything by Lois Mcmaster Bujold. Look, I've only been around for 18 years or so, and for the first 8 of those I wasn't really reading all that much. I can't have read everything.

The Warslayer -- Rosemary Edghill (rating: 8/10)
I admire this book for having the utterly improbable phrase "This is a genuine interdimensional stuffed elephant." I admire any heroine who cuddles a stuffed elephant; I believe that if more people treasured a stuffed animal of some sort, the world would be a better place. I'm not quite sure how it would be better, but it would. As for the book, it's surprisingly good. Funny but not silly, full of people who try their best, characters who make hard choices, and things that don't always come out right, it's an escape from reality that offers us feelings and hopes we can all identify with in some way. I'm left with the feeling that I don't quite agree with the obvious morral, and an abiding desire to watch the associated tv show. This book is open for expansion into a series, but even if it never happens, or I never read the rest of the books, I'm satisfied with the ending provided.