Saturday, December 15, 2007

Quick Takes: Elizabeth Bear, Orson Scott Card, Walter Jon Williams

Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear: I saw a listing of Space Opera novels that had Elizabeth Bear’s Jenny Casey trilogy on it. As I read Hammered I couldn’t figure out how this could be until I got to the very end. Jenny Casey is an ex elite soldier for the Canadian military. She has served in many of the world’s hot spots and in this future setting, the locations are not what you’d expect. The United States has mostly crumbled and Hartford is a bad town to be in, New York is far worse. Jenny is a 50 year old woman who has had cyborg parts for the last thirty years as a result of her military career. She is worn down, broken down, and in pain. She was trying to live her life quietly and off the grid when she starts to get pulled back in by the military she thought she left behind and by the mean streets of Hartford. Having read Bear’s two Promethean Age novels I can see how she has developed from Hammered, her debut. Hammered is a strong story, interesting, but choppy in how it jumps from scene to scene and I initially had a difficult time figuring out who some people were and how they connected. By the end it made a bit more sense, but Hammered was a bit of work to get through. I hope / expect that Scardown will be a stronger effort than Hammered, but this early Bear novel is still good, but because I know that Bear gets better Hammered wasn’t the thrill I had hoped. I think this is being a little unfair to Hammered, though. After all, on the strength of the three Jenny Casey novels Bear was awarded the Campbell for Best New Writer.

A War of Gifts, by Orson Scott Card: This novella is Card’s Ender Wiggin Christmas story. If you think about it, this is a little bit weird because the story is set in the military academy setting of Battle School, but it works because with Battle School there is to be no religious expression. Battle School needs to bring the kids together and religion is a way to divide. The story seems to be directed through the eyes of a child of an ultra orthodox Christian family from the United States who is very isolated in Battle School and becomes further isolated when he reports other students for celebrating Christmas. By the end of this Christmas story everything is turned about with a heart warming, but not at all sappy conclusion. I wish that more of Card’s fiction was this solid. Since he started telling Bean’s side of the story Card’s Ender-verse has been going downhill fast and A War of Gifts is a very pleasant surprise.

Destiny’s Way, by Walter Jon Williams: Coming off of Matthew Stover’s excellent Traitor, this New Jedi Order novel starts pulling the various threads together. Jacen, Jaina, and the Solo family are reunited, the New Republic begins to find a way to fight back, Vergere gets some more face time, and we learn a bit about the origins of how and why the Vong have invaded the known galaxy. I was hesitant about this one because I worry about any Star Wars author I am not familiar with. Walter Jon Williams knocked this one out. There are only five novels left in the New Jedi Order series (out of 19).

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