Review: Hostile Takeover

November 29, 2013 at 12:31 pm (science fiction, space opera)

Hostile Takeover
Hostile Takeover by Susan Shwartz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book more, but the future world portrayed by Shwartz pissed me off so much that I had to set it aside repeatedly so I could cool off.

It’s actually a typical extrapolation-from-the-present near-future SF world, in which financial-services veteran Shwartz contemplates what would happen if the whole world were dominated by that industry. More than it is now, that is. So much so that people are divided into three classes: the poor, stuffed into crime-ridden crowded “insulae” with only the thinnest thread of hope of escape; the wealthy, insulated from (but not immune to) financial risk; and the middle class, who live in fear of losing a job, falling into debt, and being shipped off to the asteroidal colonies in cryogenic suspension and to indentured servitude (or even involuntary organ donation).

The protagonist, CC, escaped from poverty into the middle class and lives in that fear (waking up multiple a week in sweating, terrified nightmares). The inevitable result of these circumstances, in which even a brilliant and creative analyst like CC could easily wind up on the garbage heap, is that the middle class salarymen behave pretty much like ferrets tied up in a sack. Apparently they are not really paid all that well, making it very hard for them to stay out of debt (and unable to save up for large expenses?), their credit ratings are monitored constantly for imprudent discretionary spending, and their behavior is expected to fall within rigid but unwritten lines at all times. Otherwise they get “downchecked” and if their fiscal and social credit ratings get too low, they’ll suddenly become unemployable.

As I said, terrifying and infuriating. Shwartz makes CC’s terror and determination very real – as well as her intelligence and serious research addiction (which endeared her to me considerably, of course).

The plot revolves around CC’s audit of questionable activities at Vesta Colony, various attempted murders of CC, and eventual discoveries that were great to read but don’t add much to the spectrum of SF ideas. It’s the setting that does that.

Pay no attention to the cover, by the way. It should’ve been a representation of CC’s 3D data matrix, not a ridiculous intimation of physical combat that didn’t happen.

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Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster (1978)

June 7, 2012 at 7:57 am (science fiction, space opera)

Ah, nostalgia! I first read this book as a young teen, sitting on the floor of the library in the resort town we were vacationing in that summer.

Re-reading it now, I found that I remembered nothing whatsoever of the plot or even the setting – I retained only a general positive impression that I think was based partly on its exoticism and partly on the way with imagery that Foster sometimes has, and no doubt partly on the fact that Leia kicks butt.

And honestly, it doesn’t survive mature analysis very well. That clever and beautiful imagery gives it the only depth it has – it’s a straightforward adventure novel, rife with coincidence, driven by pursuit of a pseudo-scientific MacGuffin, and leading into a standard confrontation with the enemy in a collapsing ancient temple. It’s amazing that the plot works at all; that’s a testament to Foster’s basic ability as a writer (in all aspects except romance).

So I still liked it, but nowhere near as much as I did back in the day. Ah well.

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Born of Shadows by Sherrilyn Kenyon (2011)

June 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm (negativity, science fiction, space opera)

I actually had my doubts about this book just from reading the jacket copy, but we’ve all read books whose jacket copy wasn’t a good fit with the actual contents.  Plus, I’ve seen this author’s name before, it was a library book, and I was in the mood to try something new.

And I’m glad I didn’t waste any of my own money on it.  I do enjoy a good space opera, but this isn’t one.

It features characters built out of quirks, stereotypes, and angst; a plot full of more coincidences than a Roadrunner cartoon; and worldbuilding containing even less logic or explanation than can be found in Star Wars.

And the actual writing is about as stylish and enjoyable as stereo instructions.  Or telegrams.  Seriously: “HE CAUGHT THE WAY HER VOICE SOFTENED AS SHE SPOKE ABOUT HER DAD STOP IT WAS OBVIOUS SHE LOVED THE MAN STOP QUOTE THAT WAS NICE OF HIM UNQUOTE STOP” (from randomly-selected page 239).

I did actually read the whole thing, mainly because I was curious about how the two main characters were going to wind up meeting, and then it had the avalanche-of-events appeal of an action movie, complete with witty banter and plot-based immortality.  Unfortunately it also has all the depth and subtlety of an action movie.

And this is a best-selling author with apparently over 50 novels published.  I have to wonder, are they all this rough, or is she just coasting at this point?

“SHE WANTED TO CRY FROM THE FIERCE EMOTIONS THAT SWELLED INSIDE HER STOP A PART OF HER WANTED TO DEVOUR HIM STOP ANOTHER PART JUST WANTED TO HOLD HIM UNTIL EVERYTHING WAS GOOD AGAIN STOP.”

Yeah, “STOP” sounds good.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

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Why I can’t stand Honor Harrington (but read the books anyway)

April 25, 2010 at 5:16 pm (science fiction, space opera)

I read.  A lot.  — Not as much as I’d like to, often, but a lot.

I read for entertainment, and like everyone else I have a range of particular interests and tastes.   I’ve even developed preferences, which is pretty easy to do when genre fiction is involved.  One of the things I like is military SF.  Another is strong female characters.

And I can’t stand Honor Harrington.

But I still read those books.

For those who haven’t been playing along at home, Honor Harrington is the protagonist of eleven (almost twelve) novels by David Weber, following her career from midshipwoman to fleet commanding officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy (space navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore) – with various political and military difficulties intervening in this course, naturally.  She has an avid fan following, and there are a number of authorized fanfiction collections about the “Honorverse” in which she lives.

I’m not that much of a fan.  Really, I like Weber’s new Safehold series much better (and none of his other work has caught my interest).  But in my opinion, the space battles are the best part of the Honorverse books.  Not the setting, not the characters, not the politics – the space battles.

If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the series, that’s because it’s not.  On the other hand, the books are pretty well paced (occasional pages-long blocks of exposition on interstellar politics aside) and have interesting plots and basic character interactions.  They’re just not top quality stuff.

And I can’t stand Honor Harrington.  I can easily forgive her for being brilliant (reading about stupid people can be frustrating).  I could forgive her for being stronger than normal because of gengineering for heavier gravity.  I could forgive her for being virginal (or practically so), for having a bitter personal enemy because he tried to rape her back at the academy, for having an idyllic childhood with loving doctor parents, for being an excellent pistol shot and a champion martial artist and picking up swordfighting along the way too, for having trouble with complex math except under stress, for her periods of baseless self-doubt, for temporarily losing an eye and going around with an eye patch.

But I can’t forgive the furry empathic bonded animal companion.

I’ve read descriptions of Nimitz (!), the six-limbed empathic “treecat” (gray and white stripes, IIRC), but my brain insists on seeing him as the cat in this online comic strip (FYI, that particular image is safe for kids and work, but the rest of the comic mostly isn’t).

I know this isn’t fair; I don’t mind bonded animal companions in various other contexts.  And it isn’t just that the furry critter doesn’t fit well into the military milieu.  It’s just … she’s got all these advantages (and a few minor disadvantages), plus a fuzzy sidekick.  It’s too much.  I can’t stand it.

But at least I still get great space battles out of these books.

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