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The Dolphins of Pern (1994) by Anne McCaffrey is perhaps the beachiest beach read of all her Pern books. It turns out that the Pernese people have yet another thing that they've forgotten about, the intelligent speaking dolphins that came with the orignal colonist. Why the dolphins just didn't shout out, "Hey, you stupid two leggers. How about some fish?", I don't know, but Pern folk are mighty dense, so I rolled with it.
The story itself wanders all over the plays, swaps between main characters a few times, and even has a subplot with no relationship at all to the main plot. (It's Toric again. Same stuff.) It won't hold its place as one of the best dragon rider books, but it's a relaxing read, the characters are generally pleasant and not too stupid, and everyone goes about the same songs and dances as always. If you like the Pern books, this book will itch all the right places.
At this point, I believe that Anne's overall cognitive skills are showing decline. For her career at Del Rey, she'd had great editorial support, but her novels contemporaneous to this one show far weaker story, sometimes to the point of having no actual plot arc. From here, the amount of outside support that needs increases steadily, even if their names are not shown on the cover, putting this book on the tail of of the pure McCaffrey Pern novels. From here on out, she will write novels with co-writers.
In many ways, this book is Anne McCaffrey's greatest hits. You see all her favorite story ideas collected into this narrative, and you'll be able to identify which books they come from. There's nothing really new here. We see many of our favorite characters walk in for a chapter or two, making for nice visits from old friends, although some of these possible plots get dropped as the story progresses.
While the book threatens to fail as a narrative, Anne's Pern has enough internal conflict and stubborn characters that's there more than enough plot to sort out. It's all done rather pleasantly, with some ups and downs along the way. AlI said, it's a beach read. Nothing about it is difficult. It's distracting enough to be distracting, but not so engrossing that you forget to check whether your kids are still alive.
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Freedom's Challenge (1998) by Anne McCaffrey brought an apparent trilogy to a close. Anne took three books to tell a story that any lesser or better author would have taken only one book to write.

I've spent a while trying to figure out why I care so little for the books, and so little for the characters these books. From my point of view, Anne skips over all the interesting bits, instead focusing on the uninteresting bits. Our lead character, Kris, is so forgettable that I had to look up her name. She does little worth talking about, is often left behind, and only later hears about all the interesting missions and development. We don't follow the story as it happens, we follow the story as it gets reported to Kris. This breaks any reader engagement.

Her best cat friend is Zainal, who I never built an affinity with. I don't care about him any more than Kris. So if I don't care about her, or him, or their relationship, then there isn't really very much to talk about with these books.

One bit about Anne's writing that drives me crazy is her childhood development gaffs. Perhaps her children were extraordinary, but most likely, she no longer has any idea of what children under 5 years old are like. These children have no relationship to reality. Don't base any of your ideas on childcare on anything that Anne has to say.

What aggravates me most is that there's a story in there, but she's not brave enough to tell that story. I see so much of what could be done with the setting merely by showing us the episodes that she tells us about. Show us the story, Anne. Show us. That's the interesting bit.

The entire series sails to easily through its own story. The characters rarely see any setbacks or plan complications. They make a plan, fret for a bit, then see the plan succeed. Anne shy's away from any moments of drama or doubt, which means that we don't see the characters tested to any large degree.

This book is no better or worse than the one before it. If you liked the last one, this one should work out fine for you. If you didn't like the last one, this book has nothing to offer. 
dmilewski: (Default)
Freedom's Choice (1997) by Anne McCaffrey is about 295 pages too long. Every single word is utterly forgettable. Every conversation is dull. The tome reeks of pointlessness basted in apathy. How a writer of McCaffrey's statue could forget to use plot, pacing, and other basic literary conventions is beyond me. Emotionally, the book is a straight line, never deviating from its steady state. You never doubt anything because the books essentially goes nowhere. Yes, stuff happens, but you don't care. This book progresses in the same way that wandering far enough in any direction feels like you've progressed. She phoned this thing in.

How did this even get published?

Any reasonable writer could have told this tale in one quarter of the words, and had a greater impact on the reader. The work is no better than a novella tossed into a puffed rice maker, only bigger because it contained more air.

If you don't mind drinking on the beach as you turn off your brain, you'll find this an entertaining book. Any drunk can follow the lacadasical plot, and the story repeatedly tells you information, so you don't have to worry about forgetting anything.

I'm not even going to stand here and justify myself. That would be more than this book deserves. 

What galls me most is that it isn't a one star book. I'd have far more fun with a truly bad book. No, this is a two-star turkey perfect for the days when you're on heavy meds. 
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Freedom's Landing (1995) by Anne McCaffey is an SF beach read. Give yourself a large supply of numerous munchies and enough alcohol to make anything entertaining, and you too will be entertained. Skip the alcohol, and you'll have to face the unavoidable fact that this book has almost no plot, the characters are mostly forgettable, it centers around a romance with zero spark, and the science part tops out at "solar power." Aside from that, it's a well written beach read, with a perky heroine, quippy dialog, and copious fluff. Subtract sobriety, and there's real fun to be had here.

Unwilling colonists here have been dumped on an alien planet for being uppity humans. Survive or die is the name of the game, but because the book is fluffy, the dying part isn't that bad (it only happens to nameless characters) while the survival part isn't that hard.

If the plot had actually gone somewhere, rather than saunter around, this book would have satisfied me better. As it stands, this book feels like it has a beginning, a middle, and then more middle. What there is of an end feels rather tacked on. I don't mind multi-part books, but even those feel like they're building or heading towards something. This book didn't feel like it was building or heading towards anything.

This work exists in McCaffrey's well run future, where internal fighting and politics rarely happen. Either everyone's in line or there's a crisis, and in this book, everyone gets in line. The humans go through almost no politicking, with is rather too neat for me, but that's why alcohol helps.

I'm really not sure who this book is written for as the SF market is not known for its love of fluffy, lightly written, colonization romances. I can't say that I've ever seen this combination of traits before, and except for its sequels, I doubt that I'll see more again, but if I do, you can sure that beer will be involved, or maybe a double mojito. 
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The Tower and The Hive (1999) by Anne McCaffrey wraps up her tower series with the same overly fluffed prose as her other four novels. The space fleets investigate Hive worlds, come to conclusions, and work out a solution to their problems so that they can live happily ever after. That's pretty much what you'd expect out of a final book.

Sharing all the flaws of the previous tower books, this book holds no surprises or revelations, softballing the pertinent moral and ethical questions, while jumping to the socially acceptable answer. As always, any antagonist or opposer is demonstrated as having bad behavior problems and issues, rather than actually issuing opinions of merit.

For example, The Rowan's family dominates the Towers. While it's true that there's more supply than demand, this doesn't dismiss the underlying concern that there's too much power in one family's hands. Even if the accuser is jealous and xenophobic, and pouty to book, to dismiss the concern so quickly is patronizing. I don't expect the finest intellectual rigor on my McCaffrey SF, but I do demand some rigor. Answer the hard questions, or at least wrestle with them in a meaningful fashion that respects the reader.

While at one time I enjoyed books where the good guys agreed with each other, and they overcame the bad guys, now I find such writing as too pat. Conflicts are not binaries. While McCaffrey sort of gets that dynamic with the hive, as she comes to understand that genocide is genocide, she fails to apply the same consideration to human beings. The good guys need to actually work through their ethics instead of yakking away with character building scenes, and the bad guys need to present their case in a compelling manner so that they know that they've been thinking and that they're willing to ask the hard questions.

I think that this series ultimately misses for me because McCaffrey fails to build the characters, the world, and the issues, which is a stunningly failure considering that this is an SF series. 
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Lyon's Pride (1994) by Anne McCaffrey, disappointed me on every level.  It's like a pretty new car that's a lemon under the hood. It's like one of those post-war British films with slow pacing and no soundtrack. You see everything getting discussed and decided, whether it helps the story or not. There was literally nothing happening across most of the chapters, no real feeling of beginning, no real feeling of uncertainty, and an even vaguer feeling of the end.

I skimmed for chapters at a time, spending seconds per page, without missing any single plot point. 90% of this book was padding. This book wasted my time. The only reason that I kept reading it is because I'm conducting a project of reading McCaffrey's non-Pern material. 

This book has characters. I don't really care who they are. Their personalities really don't matter, which is good because they don't seem to have any. I frequently mix them up at this point and it doesn't matter. 

There's some interesting bits when the Lyons are actually learning about the Hive. Unfortunately, not only do those bits not last very long, they seemed like asides.

What I can't figure is whether this book is supposed to be a YA book or a SF-romance. McCaffrey just can't decide.

If you liked the previous books in this series, you'll get more of what you expect, so read on. If you don't like the series, then you won't like this.

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Damia's Children (1993) by Anne McCaffrey continues her Tower and Hive series. Rather than pseodo-biographies of the title characters, this book is a series of novellas focusing of four of Damia's children. Rather than giving us a long, dull slog, this book gives us four snappy, shorter stories, forming an actual narrative arc. While still a little simplistic, as the general text and texture of the whole series is rather a throwback to 50's SF, the simpleness generally works better in the context of a YA story. Because the galaxy doesn't depend on the actions of any one character, the story can follow more personal arcs, with each character finding a place by the end. 

Because the subject matter is generally lighter and fast, the book projects a far lighter and sprightly feel than the earlier volumes. Very little feels unnecessarily padded, events all seem reasonable, and everyone gets some chance to show off their cleverness. 

If you've gotten this far in the series, you'll find this title easy going.
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Damia (1992) by Anne McCaffey is the sequel that nobody asked for starring characters that nobody found interesting. Then, McCaffrey expanded the story, providing us with a novel full of filler.

Inside those bound, Damia continues the family story begun in The Rowan. We meet several characters, follow the development of both their personal and professional lives, culminating in a rehashing of the original short story, "Damia." The novel is almost entirely devoid of tension, anxiety, excitement, or charm. It just is. This is sorta the SF equivalent of an Epic Fantasy where you read about what every character does on making camp, day after day. What's there is all well written, but not engaging, possessing no momentum of its own. Damia doesn't even show until past page 100, over 1/3 of the way through the book. The characters themselves feel rather dull to the touch, like dough where the yeast has died off.

I'd love to say that expanding the story added something, deepened the setting, or increased our attachment to the characters, but it didn't. The whole thing takes place in the well run future, and the problem with the well run future is that there's really very little to sort out. The problems with this setting just overwhelm McCaffey's good intentions. I found little in the world that charmed me. Combine this with no knack for writing a family drama, and you get a novel that's pretty much dead in the water. Even so, the book is a marked improvement over The Rowan.

If you liked The Rowan, this book will continue to satisfy, possibly even more so. Otherwise, you're likely to get bored before the story gets anywhere, because the story really doesn't get anywhere.
dmilewski: (Default)
I honestly don't know what Robin McKinley was thinking when the wrote Deerskin (1993). While technically readable, if not wonderfully so, I found this particular book so full of fluff, so pulled one way then another, that I lost all connection to the lead character. Meanwhile, I found the overarching story so thin that skimming at excess speed did nothing to undermine it.

This book was not for me, and that's okay.

While Robin usually includes interesting fantasy elements in the story, the fantasy elements in this story felt tacked on using nine inch nails. The romance felt tacked on as well. We hardly get to spend any time with the hero, barely getting to know him. So with both the fantasy elements and the romance elements feeling superfluous, the results simply didn't satisfy any of my interests. 
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
If Wishes Were Horses (1998) is a YA fantasy story by Anne McCaffrey. In the story, the Lord goes to war, and the Lady is left managing the valiant home front that could in a circa-1800's feeling English country.

The tale is fairly short and barely rises to the term novella, even if it is a stand-alone book.

The story advances very simply, with the precognitive Lady having the intelligence and resources to see her village through hard times. Meanwhile, the villagers don't seem very capable of taking care of themselves, nor of organizing, which annoyed me to no end.

There's nothing wrong with the tale, but nothing noteworthy either. It's a safe read, if a bit shallow.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
An Exchange of Gifts (1995) by Anne McCaffey is a very sweet YA fantasy romance. My copy has illustrations by Pat Morrissey. In this short tale, a princess run away to live in the wood and pursue her true gift, gardening. The story itself is fairy tale like, existing out of time and space. The twists and turns prove simple and easy to follow. Forget realism.

There's nothing special about the story. I made the mistake of putting it down, so it stayed unfinished for a week. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with the tale, so once you get going, you'll roll through it.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Black Horses for the King (1996) by Anne McCaffrey is a divergence from her usual fantasy and SF fare. In this historical fiction, aimed at young adults, a boy helps King Arthur buy horses, and in doing so, helps him to create the cavalry of Camelot.

The story is first person and mostly straight forward. There isn't much cleverness going on, but there doesn't need to be. The tale itself is experiential, at that cusp where a boy turns into a many, and where his fortunes change from subordinate to peer.

The text moves well. The plot progresses steadily. The characters all seem a little underserved, but there no harm of the story. The antagonist is an annoyance, more unbelievably so than he ought to be, which really weakens his role. The history and horse facts are generally correct with some liberties taken to create a good story.

Overall, I found the work a competent read of YA fiction, perfect for the boys, and possibly perfect for horse girls.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Power Play (1995) by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough brings the Petaybee trilogy to a something of a conclusion. Resembling a wanna-be Northern Exposure more than a SF novel, the book attempts to capture the idiosyncrasies of small town arctic life, making it a rather fluffy read. (There's nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes you just need some cotton candy.)

Make no mistake, this book does not repeat the disaster that was book #2, but instead achieves a lacklusterness in its own right. While not a bad book, it's also not a good book. The plot generally holds together, but does depend on the stupidity of the villains. If stupid villains annoy you, then you will be well and assuredly annoyed. The story generally works, but with so many characters running about, caring about any of them becomes something of a trick.

If the book had been written by some proper comedy writers, it could have worked. Unfortunately, adequately written comedy is experientially lame. Yet, I can't blame them for skewing this direction, because that was the center of the story and really was where it needed to go.

In many places, the story felt rather padded, walking through the plot with little engagement, while in other places, the story skips over interesting parts of the plot, summarizing as it goes. This is pretty much in line with the other books in this series.

Don't put this book down in the middle because you likely won't pick it up again.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Power Lines (1994) by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Scarborough is a narrative catastrophe continuing the Petaybee storyline. In this book, the plot line disintegrates into incoherence, but does eventually stumble about to a conclusion of sort.

In the first book of this series, Anne and Elizabeth showed how they could world together to build a fun world, even if the results were sort of blah. In this book, they struggle back and forth over who has the plot line, demonstrating exactly how not to to write a shared book. They start numerous plot lines, run down equally numerous dead ends, with equally swerves and veers as the plot line gets pounded this way and that with no subtlety, and finally, crawls its way over the finish line and reaches its word count.

Some parts of the book read like summaries rather than plot, especially toward the end, where the writers vainly hope to give us a conclusion, but there's no way that they can give us a satisfying conclusion because what came before produced no coherent narrative to culminate.

I don't even know who the main character is supposed to be. The book feels more like a bunch of short stories crammed together into a power cord tangle than a proper book. I'd say that the short stories were satisfying, but they're not.

I am truly agog that two experienced writers would produce such a catastrophe.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Powers that Be is the first team up of Anne McCaffrey with Elisabeth Anne Scarborough, and the first book of the Petaybee SF series.

An injured Yanaba Maddock is sent to Petaybee for recuperation. In this fairly fluffy SF book, think Northern Exposure meets Ireland in Alaska, she find a bit of adventure, romance, Innuit culture, and the usual cast of McCaffrey idiot villains. In stock SF form, the natives are right, the intruders are idiots, and nobody can talk to each other to actually work out what's going on.

Looking at the cover price of $20 twenty years ago, I'm glad that I didn't pay the price. It's a fun paperback read, but it just doesn't rise to premium levels.

The collaboration usually goes well between the two authors. I think that Scarborough brings a smoothness and humanity to the series that McCaffrey often lacked. Scarborough also brought her knowledge of northwestern America and its people, both their attitude and traditions, which provide the setting and background for the natives. The great thing about using real cultures is that you really don't need to make much up.

I often found the characters hastily realized. At times, too many characters were simply introduced too quickly. They weren't bad, but I really didn't get the time to care about them.

Yana, the lead character, doesn't do very much at all. She shows up, hacks a lung up, gets an investigation mission, hangs out, and doesn't seem to do very much otherwise. Her main power seems to be that she's personable, which in this book seems like a superpower. Her other main power seems to be that she's not an idiot.

All in all, the book's not a bad read. Once you get going, it'll keep your brain occupied. The plot's enough to hold together and get you to the other end. If you're snowed it, it might even be right nice.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Rowan (1990) by Anne McCaffrey is an expansion and continuation of the Rowan story found in Get of the Unicorn, a collection of stories written in the 1960's.

There are two ways to expand a story: rewrite it or extend it. Anne chose to extend, keeping her story from the 1960's intact. This choice that Anne kept all the weirdness and kludginess in the original SF romance story, with all the complication of setting up a larger story around it. Because of this decision, and her limited narrative skills, the results are largely a failure. Indeed, the later half of the work reads largely like documentation, sending the characters here and there, seeing them do things, and no parts of the story hanging together at all.

Personally, I blame continuity culture. Anne should have taken the original story and completely rewritten it within so that the entire story works as a novel, revising or revisiting the dated tropes of the original story. Instead, she accepted her continuity as inalterable, which meant that she left herself with all the bad decisions inherent in her original tale.

The cover for my version is gorgeous, a bright vision of SF that we don't get to see any more. The Rowan herself appears with huge guzumbas, thin arms, and shapely legs. The faint face of a man adorns the cover, gently hints at romance. But hey, look at those gazumbas!

While I absolutely adore Anne at her best, at her worst, she's a waste of ink. She's the Lucy to my Ricki and she drives me baba-loo. This manuscript leaves me ranting in faux Cuban Spanish. How did Anne's madcap plan go so wrong? Not only does this book feel dated for the late 80's, early 90's, it feels dated for the mid-70's. Even Anne's work in the 60's feels a little dated for the 60's. Even if you can get over the dated feel, the architecture of the novel doesn't even work. The sections aren't workable stand-alone stories, and the stories together don't add up to anything at all. What we're looking at here, folks, it a literary McMansion, a total failure of architecture at every level.

The only reason that I don't give the book one star is that I've read one-star books, and even being a failure at every level, it's still better than a one star book.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
The Masterharper of Pern (1998) by Anne McCaffrey follows the life of Robinton, the most well loved character in her Pern series. The story does its best to unite the Pern of her later novels with the Pern of her early novels, to some credible success, but also has places where the story clunks.

Most importantly, this is a Harper Hall book, which makes it a welcome addition for me. I love the Harper Hall books most of all her Pern books, so any addition, to me is a good addition. It's a more satisfying Harper Hall than Dragon Drums, which suits me just fine.

The book itself is ambitious, attempting to unite the old Pern with the new Pern, show us Harper Hall, the weyr, and the holds, the troubles of the times, the rise of Fax, the slow retreat of women from public life, the arc of Robinton's relationship with his father, and the events that shaped the Masterharper. Anne does her best to rise to the challenge, but fails as often as succeeds.

By necessity, the novel is structured like a biography, for better or ill. By following Robinton's life, the story can't move through the same structure that a work of heroic fiction can. Because of that, the story can't have the same energy in the same points. In places, I found the episodes engaging, and in other places, I found the episodes dull filler, doing little more than explaining one plot point or another. At times, we closely go through years, and at other times, leap over significant time in a paragraph.

Also by necessity, we meet all the major players of the pre-pass era. This is par for the course for Pern books. If you didn't meet the important people, you wouldn't have a book. That means that we meet people and we learn why Robinton has his particular reltionship with each: Petiron (Robinton's father, who becomes Menolly's teacher), F'lon (his good friend, and father to F'lar and F'nor), a young Manora, Jora (who is mostly a non-entity), Fax (the bad guy, Robinton works for him briefly, then watches him conquer other holds), and a small host of other young nobles who become the Lord Holder of later books.

In many respects, she does a fair job setting up situations for the future.

Prequals have an additional challenge that most books don't have. They must shine a new light onto the existing books, so that the books that come afterward have increased meaning, that we understand better the relationships that unfold. Anne does a fair job of this at best. I think that she misses many opportunities. Where this works with Robinton's relationship to F'lar and F'nor, where it works okay is with the traditions of Harper Hall, and where it works poorly is with history. It never made sense that a bunch of Lord Holders would sit around with their thumbs up their asses when a murder has seized a hold, but that's the case.

Some retconning happens here, either by accident or on purpose. I'm for it. I am a retcon supporter. An author can and should change her lore when her original lore contains decisions that no longer work for the story. I only wish that Ane had gone even further. I think that she missed some great opportunities.

I felt like the early parts of the book were well considered and generally well executed. By the end, I felt like Anne was up against a deadline, writing out the remainder of her outline as fast as possible. That was said. I felt like there were two books here, one for Robinton's early life, and one about him as Masterharper, with the Masterharper story getting short shrift.

Indeed, my biggest complain of the book is that Anne missed too many opportunities in favor of trite plot arcs. The story needed more heart to it.

As for Robinton, he's the best singer, composer, songwriter, copyist, and woodworker in the hall. He's totally best in every way, yet a total disappointment to his father. I find that all rather hard to swallow. The character would have worked so much better if he had been an average harper in every way, except for having a keen insight into people and a remarkable ability to pursued. His youth should have been filled with more trouble and more head slaps. That way, he really could have been a total disappointment to his father, instead of a perceived disappointment, and yet still would have had the right skills to make the Masterharper.

Anne goes out of her way to let you know that Robinton isn't gay. Really, really, really, he's not gay. Look, here's yet another woman, he's not gay.

As for Pern (the planet itself is a character), we meet a society going away. There's a perpetual feeling of loss, of less. The old Pern is going away, being slowly replaced by a more repressive, backward Pern. Sometimes this is handled highhandedly, Anne slapping you with the news, but on other ways, she handles it nicely.

On the whole, Anne's abilities are up to the task while writing a Harper Hall book, but when pressed with the bigger challenges of the work, produced unnecessary dull prose. That much said, I'm still a sucker for Anne.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
I played through the Android version of Final Fantasy V over the last few weeks. Clocking in at 30-40 hours of main-story game play, I found the game light-hearted, fun, having a well paced story teamed up with an interesting job mechanic and usually interesting boss fights. From my perspective, this was the most fun that I had playing these older-versioned Final Fantasies. Much of the game hit my sweet spot.

A meteor lands, uniting four unlikely companions, who gain powers from the shards of a destroyed crystal. What's destroying the great crystals? This can't be good. It's an adventure that leads across three worlds, and in the end, battles to save existence itself.

For the most part, game play went smoothly. I figured out the jobs. I found many interesting little things along the way, but also missed quite a few. The money managed out reasonably. I rarely had to grind for more than a short while to cover my gear or gain a few levels. Most of the time, I didn't need to grind at all, but generally, grinding a little is a smart thing to do in these early FF's. The auto fight mode worked acceptably, repeating your previous commands, easing the oppressive weight of ordinary fights. The spells and items all work like you'd expect in the Final Fantasy genre.

I did have some difficulties with the game. I had a tendency to hit plot points where I couldn't figure out where to go, so I wandered around until I got lucky. On a few levels, I couldn't quite figure out the dungeons, but my 9 year old daughter proved invaluable in helping me. The final battle proved difficult until I read about how the boss functioned, then I was able to beat it handily.

As a complaint, the end credits went on forever and a day.

The fight system itself was timed, which is a type of fighting that I dislike, but turning down the speed aided me greatly. I vastly prefer paused-time combat. Even so, I found it tolerable and not too annoying in this iteration. At times, I did get frustrated as time was supposed to stop as I picked spells (I picked that option), but on many boss fights, my character died while I was in the spell menu. That's a big no-no. That's why I dislike timed-input fights.

All in all, I do recommend this game for the RPG aficionado. It's good fun with a light heart and an optimistic tone. That's how I like my games.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Tehanu by Ursula LeGuiin comes at you like an erector set. There are many pieces, pictorial directions, and a screwdriver. It's up to you to figure out what the pictorial directions actually mean and hope that you can actually build that complicated thing, only to find out that you've made a mistake, or there's a screw missing, or you needs to substitute parts. Why doesn't it all just fit together.

Yeah. That's Tehanu. Why doesn't it all just fit together?
If this book was about Jane and Tom, and that burned girl Mimi, all in the land of Trolls, I would have far fewer problems with this book. It would surely but unsteadily entertain me from one end of the novel to the other. I'd have my qualm about it, but they wouldn't be big qualms. However, that's not the book that we get. We get an Earthsea novel, the fourth in the series, and with that comes titans who just don't have anywhere to sit down. No matter how you arrange it, there's a colossus in the garden and he'd like something to drink.
Our characters purport to be The Nameless One/Arha/Tenar/Goha and Sparrowhawk/Ged, yet they never feel like those characters. Case in point, Goha is trapped in her house, in the dark, and she forgets how the locks go. Oh, how that scene should never be, for it was Goha who grew up learning the dark, the ways in the dark, and the habits of the dark. She should know every nook and cranny of her house in the dark, the way that the locks go in the dark, and the number of steps in the dark, for that knowledge, that learning once and never forgetting, is so central to Arha from The Tombs of Atuan.
How could Ursula have made such a basic mistake? How could she have lost the central core of that character? I readily accept that Arha could have lost many skills and habits on leaving her native lands, learning how to live in many new ways, but nothing translated from that old character, not even her vicious push-back or her means of solace. We see bits of the character, sprinkled on like old pepper, without taste and meaningless.
Goha learned her new language as a young woman. Why does she speak flawlessly? Would not some language difficulty suit her? It would certainly help distinguish her from everyone else and constantly remind the reader that she is not from here and is different.

There was a romance, too, but that fell like an egg onto the pantry floor. It splatted, and that's about all it felt like.
In praise, this novel not only discards some fantasy conventions, it positively smashes them to the ground then dances on the shards with steel boots. We have a hero with no real power. We have a child who is never miraculously healed. We have problems raised that are not solved. We have no real villain other than the issues of our main characters. (Yes, there is that one guy, but really, he doesnt' matter. You could end the book without him and nobody would notice.)
What this book wrestles with, and what I understand all too well, is that ambitious stretch to write a fantasy novel without the fantasy tropes. I've done this myself, and wrote a series of novels from the view of a cook, meeting all those people that you never stop to speak to. Learning how to write in that idiom proved very difficult, requiring significantly different approaches than you might see in a more normal fantasy novel. Her decisions proved challenging to her, as they should have.
There is some retconning that happens in the books, but it's also not retconning. From the very beginning, Ursula's Earthsa has shown us what wizards know and what they don't know. She never leads to reader to believe that Wizards know all things magical. In this, she chooses to wrestle with her own words, her own millstones about her literary and feminist neck, which talks about women's magic as weak and women's magic as evil. To be honest, I was rooting for her in this book. I wanted her to succeed wildly, but by the end, found that she had not. She had not shown me that a woman's magic was either effective or good. For that, I mourn.
Maybe in the end, Goha merely traded one labyrinth for another, but for this one she is fully lost, with no words to recite or turns to count, unable to exit it and unable to stop wandering. In the end, what she find is someone to wander that labyrinth with her, because like all realistic stories, there are no firm beginning, and no firm ends, and no real plot. But there are people doing what people do. Better to be a people, I think.
In summary, Tehanu is a book that leads us down many paths, losing its way and refinding itself, until we stumbles out the other side of the forest, to find ourselves no more found than before.
* Disclaimer: Even after all those words, I still don't understand what I'm talking about here.
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