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ex libris reviews

1 November 2006

"Ashe, what are you doing?"
Ashe paused for a moment to reply.
"I am kissing you," he said.
"But you mustn't. There's a scullery-maid or something looking out of the kitchen window. She will see us."
Ashe drew her to him.
"Scullery-maids have few pleasures," he said. "Theirs is a dull life. Let her see us."

P.G. Wodehouse


In This Issue:
The Harvest is Nigh!

Wow, it's almost Thanksgiving. Which, around here, means that soccer season is almost over (and there was great rejoicing). Means there might be more time for reading and other kinds of projects. We'll see.

-- Will Duquette

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

Ender's Shadow
By Orson Scott Card

I used to be a big fan of Orson Scott Card, ever since I read his first published work, the short story "Ender's Game", in Analog magazine. It was a dynamite story, and though I bought the novel Ender's Game PDQ when it was published I always thought that the short story was better. In recent years, though, I've rather stopped reading him, for a variety of reasons, one of which is a tendency he's developed of rewriting his early works, works I remember fondly, in ways that annoy me. When Ender's Shadow was published some years ago, it seemed like more of that. I didn't buy a copy, and when my brother loaned me his and suggested I read it, it sat on the shelf.

Just in the last few months, several readers have told me that it's actually a pretty good book. So when I headed off to Chicago for the Tcl conference this year, I decided to give it a try. And it's become clear that I had dismissed it too hastily--from what I remember of Ender's Game (the novel), I do believe I like this one considerably better. Bean's a more interesting character than I would have guessed--more interesting than Ender, in fact--and Card does a neat job of developing him. He also manages to put a new spin on the story without breaking what's gone before.

That's all there is to say, really. Those of my readers who are familiar with the Ender books have probably already read this one, and I can't say much about the plot without spoiling the earlier books for those who haven't read them. I liked it. I'm going to have to look up the sequel(s). 'nuff said.

Shadow of the Hegemon
By Orson Scott Card

This, the immediate sequel to Ender's Shadow, continues the story of Bean and the other Battle School graduates in the world that follows after the end of the Formic War. In the former book, Bean has a vision of a world in turmoil as all of the political ambitions which were held in check by the need to present a united front are suddenly cut loose. In this book, the turmoil begins as all of Ender's top commanders, his "jeesh", are kidnapped as precious military resources. Bean manages to stay free, and sets out to free his comrades as the world situation spirals into war.

On the whole, this isn't quite as good a book as Ender's Shadow. Bean spends a lot more time reacting than acting (though to be fair he has to rely on adults to get anything done, and they usually have their own ideas). It isn't nearly as moving, either. That said, it's still quite an enjoyable ride, with plenty of action and intrigue, and of course it's the second volume of a four volume set. Middle volumes are by their nature less interesting than either the first of the last volume in the set. Further, according to the afterword the material in this book and its successor were originally intended to be covered in a single volume. So all things consideredShadow of the Hegemon succeeds pretty well.

I'll definitely be getting the third and fourth books in the series.

By S.M. Stirling

My, but this book is filled with folks who aren't politically correct.

The premise is simple. Following WWII, a vet named John Rolfe, a Southerner, settles down in a house in Oakland, California. A freak accident with his shortwave radio set opens a gate between his basement and...somewhere else: an alternate California that's approximately as it was when Columbus first came to the New World. A California that's unspoiled, unpolluted, by modern standards almost unpeopled. Rolfe knows a good thing when he sees it, but he realizes that he can't make use of his discovery all by himself. Who else to enlist but his old army buddies and their families? After all, there's plenty of land--and there's gold in them thar hills!

Flash forward six decades. A game warden named Tom Christiansen is on a bust of a ring that smuggles endangered species...including a California condor. Except that every California condor in existence has been tagged and tracked from birth; and this condor is unrelated to any of them. Something very odd is going on.

The story jumps back and forth between Tom Christiansen's detective work and eventual discovery of the gate, and vignettes of the history of Rolfe's new country, the Commonwealth of New Virginia. Ultimately, Tom gets caught up in a power struggle between the Rolfes and some of the other "Thirty Families" who lead the Commonwealth.

Surprisingly, Stirling doesn't gore any of my personal team of oxen with this book. On the other hand, he certainly expected to gore somebody's cattle, for the book's dedication page includes the following quotation: "There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. That term is 'idiot'." I find it interesting that Stirling felt this disclaimer was necessary. In the power struggle that concludes the book we're definitely on one side rather than the other; but it's also clearly presented as a choice between lesser and greater evils. One would have to be an idiot to think that novel celebrates Rolfe's imperalism; and yet I can't think of anything else in it which would motivate such a disclaimer. Perhaps he'll step in and let us know what he was thinking.

Anyway, I liked it, and wouldn't mind reading further tales set in the same world.

Something Rotten
By Jasper Fforde

This is the latest of Fforde's very funny "Thursday Next" series, which also includes The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, and The Well of Lost Plots. In this book, Thursday returns to the Real World after an absence of two-and-a-half years. She's got Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in tow; it seems that he and Ophelia have had a falling out, and Ophelia needs a little space. Meanwhile, page-runner Yorrick Kaine is trying to take over England with the help of the Goliath Corporation, and Thursday's time-hopping father needs her help to prevent the resulting world cataclysm. In short, it's a typical Thursday Next book.

The first of the series was outstanding; the second was also quite good; the third had its problems; and this one does too. In particular, it starts slowly--say that again, even more slowly--so slowly that it took me several weeks to get through it. The ending was OK, and I'm curious to see what comes next; but action-wise, this book is clearly the low point in the series to date.

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

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