ex libris reviews
1 July 2005
I think I agree with part of what was said, but I'm not sure I heard it.
It's been yet another busy month Chez Duquette; my new project at work is going great guns and consuming vast dollops of my creative juices (do creative juices come in dollops? Only if they aren't flowing quickly, I suppose), and though I've been reading a lot I haven't been writing all that much. There were four books I'd read but not yet reviewed when I put ex libris together last month; and I don't believe I've gotten to all of them yet. I confess, at the moment it's somewhat tempting to hang up the whole book-reviewing shtick. I've been doing it for eight and a half years, and maybe that's enough.
On the other hand, this is likely a passing mood; my supply of creative juices fluctuates--ditto my ability to concentrate, which is not unrelated--and at the moment there's low supply and high demand. This too shall pass, and it's likely that if I turned my back on ex libris I'd regret it. So although I'm tempted to quit, I plan to give it time; if I still feel this way in six months, then we'll see.
(Some of you will doubtless feel like writing me with words of encouragement; it's not necessary, but feel free! I always like encouragement.)
The pickings are slim this month; but enjoy them anyway!
This is an interesting excursion into hard science-fiction from an author whose usual output is quite a bit more rollicking. Twenty years before the main action, Earth was conquered by an alien race called the Jao. The battle was quite fierce, and pockets of resistance still linger. The bulk of mankind, however, has been forced to labor for the Jao; the stated goal is to produce weapons so that Earth may defend herself against the even more alien Ekhat. No one knows quite what the Ekhat think or what their goals are, but according to the Jao they don't like company; periodically they sweep through the galaxy sterilizing any planet they find that harbors life. That's the Jao's story.
For their part, the humans tend to doubt it. They find the Jao to be bloodthirsty, ruthless, arrogant, and willing to squish humans like bugs; and most of them suspect the Ekhat to be a boogeyman conjured up for propaganda purposes.
The Jao, on the other hand, find the humans to be unruly, unpredictable, and far too unwilling to be of use--being of use is the first moral principle among the Jao. And surprisingly, everything they have said about Ekhat is true, for the Jao are not given to prevarication. They do not understand humans, and they especially do not understand why humans are not willing to work harder. For the Ekhat are coming, and if the humans do not do as they are told, there will no hope of saving the planet.
In short, there is great distrust, hatred, and resentment on both sides--and into this stew is dropped a new official, the leading youngster of his clan, a clan that has generally been at odds with the clan that administers Earth for the Jao. Conflict is inevitable...but will the new official be able to turn things around, or will he be destroyed?
It's an interesting book, as I say, and I quite enjoyed it. The Jao are actually rather different than they first appear or than the humans think them; and the reasons for the discrepancy are fascinating. I won't go into details, as the reasons emerge over the course of the book and I hate to spoil the surprises. But it was a reasonably tasty treat, and a pretty-good page-turner as well.
It is the stated goal of one Frederick, the Earl of Ickenham and the uncle of Pongo Twistleton, to spread sweetness and light wheresoever he goes. And as he so seldom goes anywhere, being kept on a tight leash by his lady wife, he is all the more determined in his efforts when opportunity presents.
In the present instance, the good Earl has several aims. He wishes to find a source of ready funds for his godson, impoverished author Johnny Pearce, so that he can grant a decent pension to his old Nurse, so that she can marry the local constable, so that he can marry his beloved Belinda and offer her a home from which his old Nurse is thoroughly absent. Meanwhile, the Earl's old school chum, Sir Raymond "Beefy" Bastable the barrister, has written a scandalous novel about the evil ways of the younger generation. This work is entitled Cocktail Time, and should word get out that Bastable wrote it he will never be a Member of Parliament. Bastable wishes the novel to be suppressed; Ickenham wishes to see Beefy happily married to his old flame, editor Barbara Crowe. And then of course there's Albert Peasemarch, Beefy's butler and Ickenham's old army buddy, who wishes to marry (Wodehouse alone knows why) Beefy's not-very-bright sister. And then there's the con-artist Oily Carmichael, and his beloved wife and helpmeet (very handy with a cosh, she is); they've figured out who really wrote Cocktail Time, and figure there must be a pile of money in it for them--especially after Hollywood gets hold of it.
Wodehouse's Uncle Fred stories are always a treat; grab this one and enjoy it.
This is the second of the Honor Harrington books, and though it has a few warts it's not at all bad.
Following her successful endeavours On Basilisk Station, Harrington is given command of a squadron carrying a Royal envoy to a nearby system. The Star Kingdom of Manticore is much smaller than the People's Republic of Haven with whom they will soon be at war, and Her Majesty's government is busily assembling an Alliance of other small star nations, especially those which lie between Manticore and Haven.
Two of these nations are the planets of Grayson and Masada, which orbit neighboring stars. Both planets were settled by a single colony ship; the colonists were all members of a sect called the Church of Humanity Unchained. The ship went first to the planet the colonists named Grayson, after Austin Grayson, the founder of their Church; later, there was a civil war and the losers (fanatical hard-liners), ejected from Grayson, went off to colonize nearby Masada.
Due to their religion, the Graysons hold to a wide variety of beliefs and practices that strike Manticorans as downright odd if not outright wrong. Polygamy is normal; and the protection of women is a cornerstone of society. There are many jobs (such as commanding warships) that women simply don't do on Grayson.
The arrival of Honor Harrington commanding an entire squadron, many of whose crewmembers are women, is rather a shock to Grayson society--and equally a shock to Harrington herself.
I have mixed emotions about the portrayal of religion in the Honor Harrington series; it's something of a Maguffin, something used to explain irrational behavior on the part of less enlightened people. To be fair, Weber does portray the Graysons warmly and positively for the most part; but at the same time, the Graysons he portrays most warmly and positively are precisely the ones who are most willing--or able, even if unwilling--to compromise their traditional mores in favor of more "modern" standards. Those who choose to hang on to those parts of Grayson tradition that Manticorans find objectionable are invariably the bad guys. As a religious conservative, I find that troubling, if typical.
All that said, there's a lot to like here, too; if you have any taste for military SF, it's well worth looking into.
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