Starlight Mage

Volume 3, Number 10

Steve Marsh

2813 Montgomery Place

Wichita Falls, TX 76308

More Book Reviews:

Imagine a book written by a military man, claiming to be realistic military fiction. The commander of a capital ship runs into a long lost relative about the time he rescues some blacks from a shipwreck. Being a "good old boy" the commander's biggest worries are whether he'll have to share the female ratings he's got on his string with the relative and who'll get to bed the physically beautiful, but petulant and untrained, black beauty from the ship wreck that the commander has worked on attaching to his staff for "special duties" (which she doesn't understand yet).

Just what you'd expect in realistic military fiction? */!&! no. Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon ends on that note. Of course the "blacks" in the book are "heavyworlders" (who coincidentally need raw meat in order to grow to their full potential), the commanding officers in question are females who are sleeping around with their male subordinates, and the "special duties, special training" really is of an individual recruited as a sex object more than any other factor that distinguishes him from the numerous other not-so-petulant types around (and who really does not get the point).

I really liked the Paksenarrion books by Elizabeth Moon -- in spite of appearing to be an AD&D campaign write-up, glitching on sword vs pike, etc. The writing was clear and honest and the story was tight and well told. I also enjoyed Lunar Activity, a collection of short stories showing a surprising range of skill, technique and ability by Elizabeth Moon. She really can write.

The upcoming Gird stories set in the same world as Paksenarrion are on my "must purchase" list and on Win's "I get to read them first list," but this latest book * * * it is just lacking.

Sassinak is really four novellas putting together the background of a Science Fantasy character. The novellas are not as contiguous as I would like and are not complete in and of themselves. They read as if someone decided that the protagonist needed four episodes to define her and flesh out her background and then wrote the episodes. Real book to follow at eleven o'clock * * *

The hero, Sassinak ("Sass" for short -- too cute for me -- and apparently derivative of the "Paks" device used before), is the good, dutiful, keep your head down, but be unorthodox, take risks and have lots of fun in bed with your junior officers kind of commanding officer that I'm certain Elizabeth Moon must have met often in the Marines.

Ok, that gibe was un-called for, but I honestly felt as if the novel was filled with un-called for glitches and inconsistencies, as if it had been parceled together without sufficient thought to the whole. I'd rather not say anything more as both authors have done better work. This book is Not Recommended. Win was really upset at how the characters were handled as she has been looking forward so long to the next Elizabeth Moon novel and we made a special trip to buy this one.

Also note, this is science fantasy, not science fiction. Heavy science fantasy at times.

Dreams of Steel, Glen Cook, Tor $3.95/346 pages.

While there is one more novel to go in the Black Company series (Glittering Stone), this may well be the best. Tight, clean, solid story lines, perfect execution of the elements, concise but complete.

This story draws together everything, springs a few surprises (without creating unanswered questions), drops some more clues and sets up what is going to be one heck of a finish.

The protagonists are well played and sympathetic, the opposition convincing, the setting deep. Even the descriptive blurb on the back cover is better than reasonably accurate. My only complaint is that I'll have to wait for Glittering Stone, but it is bound to be worth it.

Highly recommended if you've enjoyed anything by Glen Cook.

A note. I enjoy the Black Company series because I'm enthralled by the texture of the plot and the background. I'd really like to see it as a RQIII (RUNEQUEST, Avalon Hill edition) sourcebook. Even I would buy that. Evenso, until recently, I was pretty ambivalent about some of the characters. Heck, I did not like most of the characters.

"Lady" I liked as a good example of a person trying to do their best in impossible circumstances and willing to sacrifice everything (including personal survival) for the better good of humanity (in spite of not believing in gods, etc.). Reread The White Rose sometime.

She continues in Shadow Games as someone willing to sacrifice security for the chance of love. Really a courageous and solid character. Croaker, even edited as he is (according to Croaker's own comments about himself), is an interesting sort. So are a few others.

The latest novel continues to flesh out the background, the world and the likeable characters. Better, it has less military movement and less general mayhem. A few mild surprises, a few mysteries (what clue did Lady miss in the grove when she found Croaker's straw men???), lots left for a powerful finish. Very well done.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is worth a review before you read Rusalka by C.J. Cherryh. I know you've seen all the reviews hammering her and praising the other Russian folk novel, but you need to ask yourself, which novel is more Russian. The answer is Cherryh's.

The novel follows the standard pattern for Cherryh. Throw together unlikely individuals and push them out of their normal worlds. Increase the pressure and hold on boil until done.

In this novel the Russian names are translated to English (resulting in a lot of "this thing" and "that thing" type of names) and the illiteracy and lack of occult knowledge of the characters is well conveyed. The biggest problem is that the novel gets a little soggy in the middle of the typical Cherryh boiling in a very Russian sort of way.

This was Win's first time not to finish a Cherryh (she put it down about half-way through and told me to take it back to the library) and one of the few that has been hammered by reviewers. All because Cherryh does a good job of capturing the Russian feel.

I never liked Russian Lit., but I think Cherryh did a good job at it. Too bad the reviewers weren't more sympathetic. Not really recommended as fiction to read and enjoy, but a wonderful stylistic exercise.

Into Eternity, Piers Anthony, has wonderful author's notes, well adhered to plotting, and a nicely executed tale. While it does not rise up to Riding a Pale Horse, it does not descend to Bearing an Hourglass and it finishes the series. No real surprises (though I was looking very hard for one) and a mature resisting of the temptation to work in some terrible puns (I was looking for some trinity and holy ghost type jokes).

Recommended. At your library now, in paper soon.

Also, more author's notes in his upcoming series.

The Black Unicorn by Terry Brooks. The Magic Kingdom for Sale guy. Not bad, but kind of boring. By page 70 I was squirming. Ok if you like the setting (without much new material added into it) and can cope with a hero who keeps missing the obvious.

A Place Among the Fallen -- a wonderful name for a book. Roger Zelanzy -- a wonderful name for a recommendation. Good plotting (very Zelanzylike) with acceptable writing (the only non-Zelanzylike element).

The book was complete within itself and supposed to be a part of "The Omaran Saga." I'm really curious to see how the author pulls it all together. Fun touches (the world is generally full of non-believers in magic and gods -- but it does have them), some depths, twists.

Shadowplay by Jo Clayton, another "post-diadem" novel. Well executed, consistent with the late diadem novels (the series and the concept/mythology/etc. matured a bit through the series but has gained a solid consistency as it approaches its mature offshoots). This one is about Shaddith, learning to control (and to be controlled by) a young body in a strange world.

Well done except that I kept expecting to see an alternate god come out of the machine rather than the telegraphed, plotted and consistent ending. So sue me for unjustified and unfair expectations. It was a good book for the Clayton fans. The next one will be better.

Swordpoint. Very literary. That says enough.

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