So first of all we got Songs of the Savants: The First Movement by Dale Corson. Every once in a while I finish reading a book so I can make some fun of it. This one, well, isn't quite like that. It did have a good feature or two, like the cheerful and helpful giant robot spider who entirely stole the show whenever it scriggled on stage.
But the editing — Oh, great Eris on an eggcorn, the editing! Every couple of pages brings something like this:
- "none two few had beed murdered"
- "John found the environment preferable to the hodtilr surface
- "Just as quickly, the resurrection was quelled" (meaning "insurrection")
- "He managed a zombie-like gait, and forced an insubordinate state at Soll" ("stare", I think)
But let us ignore that. We got plot: that's actually halfway decent, with the alien Savants having come to Earth two thousand years ago, decided we were messing it up (humanity having just accidentally transmuted most of the Eastern Seaboard (?) into glass and preposterous monsters), and constructed a robot army of Myrmidons to take all humans to exile on the world of Xile. Some humans managed to stay behind, unfound by the robot masters of Earth for two thousand years — well, mostly unfound. The Myrmidons just found six of the last seven enclaves and wiped them out. John from the last enclave got sent out to find out what happened to the others. He doesn't find them, but does find Zarathustra, a rebel Savant, who knows where the last spacecraft on Earth is and will rebelliously help the last humans escape. Getting back to the enclave is a bit of a challenge, what with all the transmuted monsters and robot hordes. It gets more troublesome from there.
I really can't complain about the plot.
Characterization: well, the robot spider is pretty engaging. The love affair between John and his girlfriend is so uninspiring and passion-free as to remind me of a movie by actor who will never admit he's gay. Zarathustra is simply perplexing: he's had about two thousand years to do something, but hasn't gotten his act together, until the last minute when John shows up. That kind of thing.
World-Building: This sorta hurts. The mutated Earth is interesting enough. But every single mutated thingie seems so contrived! There are giant crabs who seem to survive without food (other than stray adventurers) in deserted tunnels. There are rock-melting giant subcar-size digging things that seem to exist in great numbers without any ecology. There are invulnerable floating teleporting Moondoggs who are an entirely unnecessary deus ex machina in an entirely unnecessary scene. Even the physical properties of the transmuted ground are designed to make the story seem possible.
But, y'know, it doesn't seem possible. If a vast number of quite intelligent robots ruled the Earth to the extent of trying to manage its ecology for two thousand years, how could they manage to miss several large towns and their surrounding farmlands — even underground towns? Especially since they manage to find them on their own after that time without much difficulty.
And the history is distorted too. Everyone seems very aware of the end of human civilization, the big accident, the Savant invasion. Oh, except that they don't seem to get that the Savants are trying to do what they told everyone they were trying to do. But after that, history seems to stop for two thousand years. Nuh-uh. People care more about recent events than ancient ones. The last twenty years ought to seem like the important time, and the Savant invasion maybe the second- or third-most important.
Anyways, I rate this book one giant robot spider out of five. A high one, 'cause the giant robot spider was a reasonably good character. That is, the bottom 20% of SF books that I start.
Next we get The Backworlds by M. Pax. From the flobby world-spanning plot of the previous book to a small but fun story of some grody characters you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Humanity, severely mutated and genengineered, has spread throughouth the galaxy. There are the Foreworlds, which are aggressive and sophisticated, and the Backworlds, which are the dregs. Craze is a barkeeper's son on a backworld, a cunning guy who wants not much more than to run a bar of his own and bilk customers for himself rather than his dad. But his dad betrays him, steals his girlfriend, and gets the elders to run him off the world to seek his fortune afar. He meets up with some no-more-reputable personages, including smugglers of that most valuable of substances in the whole Backworlds: chocolate!
This is a light-hearted comic novella. The characters are mostly one-dimensional, but at least their single dimensions sometimes curve off in interesting ways. Like Craze's companion-in-arms whose obsession is to show up his elder brother Federoy (who never shows up on-screen), and constantly makes up scurrilous rhymes about Federoy as a nervous tic in times of danger or delight.
Not a Great Novel, but not without amusement value. Two chocolate bars — or maybe they're bricks of compressed mealworms? — out of five. So, not as good as half the books I start, but not awful by any means.
Finally Sleeper: The Swarm Trilogy book I by Megg Jensen. Lianne, Kellan, and Bryden are hostages, taken from their Dalagan families by the Fithians at a year old or so. Lianne, viewpoint character, is a 16-year-old servant and confidante of Mags the Fithian queen. Not a powerful queen; a woman treated as a womb for son-production by the quite powerful Fithian king. Lianne and Kellan are a couple; crippled Bryden is out of the picture.
Then it's Lianne's 16th birthday, and suddenly her people's magic (thought lost) fills her. And the king discovers that the queen's latest son isn't his. And Kellan behaves quite badly. And things do not go at all as one might wish if one were in the story.
Well, hmm. The characterization around the important bits ranges from adequate (the Queen is appropriately worried about her sons, even the bastard one) to flimsy (none of the romantic bits felt very romantic to me.)
Some things really bother me. Lianne is introduced as a really good brawler: that's one of her strongest points in everyone's estimation. But she repeatedly loses fights. In one incident, she decides that her tactically best move to defend herself against some impending unknown assailants is to curl up on the floor and whimper. She didn't live up to what everyone said about her at all.
The story seems rather padded. The characters spend so much time running around saying, "Terrible thing X is going to happen! Terrible thing X is going to happen!" Yes, it is going to happen if they don't stop it somehow, and yes, it is terrible and they should work to stop it, and yes, real people do that kind of running around too. But we don't need to see so much of it. It's kind of boring.
Ultimately, though, the plot keeps this one going. The romantic plotline is pretty feeble, but the historical / adventury plotline is pretty good. When the author does stop with the running around and whining about terrible things about to happen, and lets them get to happening, the story comes up with a lot of sudden momentum and a lot of sudden surprises even in the last few pages, and All That You Had Suspected Ought To Be True In A Conventional Fantasy turns out to be true in an oblique and often unnerving way.
For which surprises, I rate this book at three mysterious Dalagan spies out of five: about average for novels I start reading.