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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 Landing (2002) by Anne McCaffrey tacks onto the more or less completed story of Botany, the forced colony. With book #3 having wrapped up the major plot points, this work doesn't so much as explore life after empire as gently stroll through it while drinking iced coffee.

Like the Cattini books that came before, this book lacks any tension in it whatsoever, so you never have any doubts that our heroes will succeed, while failing to provide any character growth or challenges, while also dwelling on filler where everyone is agreeable but nobody gets any character moments.

While the work reads well, the lack of momentum or tension or anything leaves the book wanting. What SF that there is comes across as rather tepid, which is something of a feat as Earth is rebuilding after their occupation by the Cattini and you would think that would be an interesting and challenging story. Instead, Earth seems to have everything in hand, nobody seems to be fighting anybody else, and instead of riding this terrific setup into a challenging and engaging story, sips coffee and sets up an Irish coffee bar.

While I can't call this McCaffrey's worst book ever (because book #2 in this series already did that), the book does demonstrate a stunning degree of banality in the face of a terrific setup. Most of what's here is wasted, its premise completely unexploited.
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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. 
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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 Blue Sword (1982) by Robin McKinley is the first of her two Damar novels. In this fantasy-romance, a young woman is swept away by a desert king, but only to train her for war.

Robin McKinley seems to have two modes for me: she's either engaging or long winded. This books falls onto long-winded, as she could easily have told this tale in half the number of words. While nicely written, as is usual for Robin, for me the story falls into the dull and tedious category, with an extra layer of pointless thrown in just to be sure. Most of what happens is a long justification for why a woman can be in war and fight her enemies. However, if you remember that this is the 1980s, when few people making women heroes, justification seemed needed. (It wasn't needed. Other authors simply blew past the justification part and went straight into the adventure part.)

For an adventure novel, it's pacing is quite relaxed, walking our hero through all sorts of things for most of the book.

I found the concept of kelar interesting, a way of interacting with magic that is one part revelation and one part manifestation. Kelar shows you what you need to know, but also provides what you need to accomplish the deed. It is magic, but never quite controlled magic, so its appearance in the story changes the story's direction. I enjoy inexact magic systems.

If this book set out to do anything, I think that it missed most of what it aimed for. It's not enough of a romance to satisfy a romance reader, not enough of a fantasy to satisfy a fantasy reader, and not enough of an adventure novel to satisfy and adventure reader. While Robin handles both romance and fantasy far more deftly, her handling of adventure seems deficient.

I can't pronounce this a bad book, because it does hold together, it's just not my slice of bacon.
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The Well of Shiuan (1978) by C.J. Cherryh continues the tale of Morgaine and Vanye. Morgaine is an otherworldly sort, dedicated to the destruction of gates, and Vanye is the sword and sorcery minion who's out point of view character for most of the story.

This was her second publication, and here she addressed many issues that haunted her first work. In this book, she creates a much better feel for location and place, she better articulates goals, implications, and moral conflicts, and she generally keeps the through line of the narrative far clearer. In the sort of tale where moral ambiguity usually doesn't exist, this tale hinges on those ambiguities. However, even with all the improvements, there are still places where the tale feels muddled and ill directed.

Also gone is the stiff dialog of her former work. The dialog in this novel, while still not fully naturalist, has greatly loosened up, The characters no longer feel like they're always reading from cue cards.

Interestingly, Cherryh begins the story from a third character's view, that of Jhirun, a young woman that lives in the marshlands. I found her the most present and engaging of all the characters, and I wished that we had spent far more time with her point of view. She gives us the world and the complexities in a way that no other character does, with a vulnerability that no other character has. Because she's so unspecial, her actions have consequences where a hero's never would. To me, that made her a more interesting character than any other in the book.

Parts of the book still felt forced, while other parts seemed aimless. Cherryh still has a ways to go before she hits her stylistic best, but with this tale, I begin to see those traits that would make her later books so interesting.


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The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) by Norton Juster is a charming morality play written as a boy’s improbable adventure. While often silly, descending into lexigraphic literalism with aplomb, the story engages that childish delight in bending, folding, and mutilating possibility, while at the same time using absurdism to show the natural limits of those possibilities. Written in a light and breezy style, the story rolls along at a steady pace, ready to engage minds with short attentions and big imaginations.
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The Gate of Ivrel (1976) by C.J. Cherryh reads like something old and something new. The stiff writing style, formalized language, and dense narrative reminds me of mid-20th century fantasy and SF that was rapidly falling from fashion in the 70's. Written in the sword and sorcery style of the day, the tale primarily revolves around humans, and just how bad humans are to each other before any magic gets into the mix. We have all the prerequisite oaths, oath breaking, tribal codes, and exaggerated systems of masculine honor.

Stunning in this work is the introduction of a woman as the bad-ass of the series. Like the best of all action-hero women, she never compromises nor apologizes for her behavior. She's a woman on a mission that leaves thousands dead, but that doesn't mean that she likes it. With this 70's action hero goes a truly terrible sword, one in the tradition of Stormbringer, one that gives any honest reader pause.

Despite the surface narrative of two tough sword swingers, the story carries and undercurrent of imperfection and weakness, where the lead characters of Morgaine and Vanye show themselves humans underneath their layers of toxic-masculinity. If anything, the book works against the very notion of sword and sorcery, where the toughest and baddest win. Underneath all her layers, Morgaine is a woman on a mission that's too big to go forward, but impossible to go back. Vanye is a man who's lost his male honor, but which also gives him the freedom to roam free of the hyper-masculine narrative so tied to the genre. He's tough, not because of his hardened outside, but because of his well developed inside. When he becomes Morgaine's follower, he seconds himself to the woman without hesitation nor qualms, or is he so tough that he stands unbreakable before the world.

The book appears to be among her earliest works and it shows. The story has deep flaws. My biggest issue was with place. All the places of this tale blurred, one into another, until I didn't know where we were coming from or going to. There are places where characters seemed in the wilderness, yet other characters come out of the woodwork like they're in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon, a little too like the sudden twists and turns of a cheap movie. And like a cheap movie, the scenes between often prove dull and tedious, providing a little information, but mostly wasting your time.

Despite the appearance of being well developed characters, both Morgaine and Vanye often come across rather flat and dull, just going about their way while continuously stumbling into danger. Wandering about also describes the basic plot. We do learn what we need to know, but somehow the elements never come together into a cohesive whole, even at the end. All the plot lines feel like spaghetti.

While I did enjoy some bits, I mostly have mixed feelings about the book. As a novel, its not really strong enough to stand out on its own merits, its innovations mostly smothered by its mediocrities.
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Bored of the Rings (1969) was a shameless, opportunistic, money-grubbing attempt to make money off the then-current Lord of the Rings craze. It says so right in the introduction. Created by Harvard Lampoon, the parody throws Tolkien's work into the mud, along with popular culture, some stray dogs, an itinerant card shark, and a frat full of drunk, oversexed men with beer goggles. The results is about as stupid as you'd expect, with unexpected moments of the sublime.

In short, this book is a good way to ditch a few hours and have a few laughs along the way.

Do expect the book to offend. That's its purpose. If you aren't offended, then they didn't do their job right.

The book follows the adventures of Frito and Spam, Goodgulf the wizard, and a variety of other brands and product placements that should have made the writers rich, but likely didn't because this was the era before product placements. Their goal is to destroy the Ring, and between here and there, have more interesting adventures that Tolkien's original book. At least they know how to get in, tell the joke, and get out. 

While most jokes are fully adolescent in their executions, a few rise to beautiful sublimity, such as the translations of the various elven songs.

The humor comes come densely packed and thorough, requiring your attention for every sentence. Almost every sentence contains humor, slapstick, or parody to some degree. You don't have to wait for the humor to begin in the least. In fact, the humor is more like the running of the jokes, filling the streets with every humor form known to man and elf.

While the book asserts that's its a masterpiece of parody, that's just it praising itself. As humor goes, its a good diversion, but rarely rises beyond the level of opportunistic. 
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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.
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This book has no reason being this good. Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover (1981) should have been a train wreck of a book, a totally misconceived notion with no possibility as working. As a teenager, I passed up this book many times, the subject matter looking uninteresting to me. In a way, I was right, because at that age, this book would have been beyond me. Now, however, she riveted me from beginning to end.

The story is almost entirely interpersonal, a romance, not of the modern romance arc, where the happily part is mandatory, but more like the romance of previous decades, where an entire arc of a tragic relationship would be followed. That doesn't mean that the ending isn't satisfying, it just means that the ending gives us closure in a different way than the happily ever after.

I felt particularly riveted by the first person prose style, which drops us solidly into the character's idiosyncratic point of view and kept us there, through all her changes, both internal and external. Jane is a spoiled rich brat, but not really, still capable of growth beyond herself. Her friends are varied and almost mythic in their portrayal, some more obviously than others.

The world most resembles that of Blade Runner, which hearkens back to Metropolis, with the absurdly rich living high up, and everyone else living low down, where the rich simply can't comprehend the everyone else part. In particular, the rich's fear of violence is out of proportion to the actual dangers of the world. This resemblance is reinforced with Silver, the robot that Jane loves, and the story's examination of what a robot lover means. How human are they? Is a human's love for a robot real? Given the imminent production of real sex-bots, the question is of even more importance today.

You won't find any shooting or starships in this SF novel. The fate of the world isn't at stake. In fact, the fate of nothing is at stake, except for that of Jane and her lover. 
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No One Noticed the Cat is a fluffy romance/adventure, well aimed at the middle school market. Boy and girl meet. They get married. There's an evil queen. Good triumphs in the end. It's all what you would expect, with a cat providing a bit of a twist. The highs of this book aren't very high, and the lows aren't very low, giving this book a very even keel. While this book shouldn't make anyone's must read list, but if you find it available and have a few minutes, you'll have a nice time.

Like all McCaffrey books, the villain is both smart and dumb at the same time.

You may feel temped to hold realism up to the adventure, but don't. This book has all the realism of a cartoon. If you think about it too hard, you'll ruin the charm.
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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)
The Swordbearer (1982) by Glen Cook is the dark fantasy version of a YA novel. If you know Glen's writing style, you'll recognize the disaster about to unfold. Unlike most YA novel, this one gets the inherent fantasy of boys and young men to murderously destroy all their opponents through powerful weapons and getting all the power.

The book itself progresses well enough until the middle, where the story bogs down and becomes just as series of events. Despite all the battles and all the addition of more powerful magic equipment, all momentum is lost. The powerful magic items becomes meaningless. The conflict becomes meaningless. Even our hero becomes meaningless. (In fact, the conflict is meaningless, which only adds to the meaninglessness that already exists.)

While this story is an interesting direction to take the unwilling hero story, it's a direction that shouldn't be repeated. It's a mediocre tale, one filled with themes that will to on to make his Dread Empire and Black Company stories ring like steel.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Always Coming Home (1985) by Ursula LeGuin is a textbook on a culture that doesn't yet exist. If you like reading textbooks, you'll love reading this book. My personal experience included nodding off and vertigo. Too much textbook and not enough story. It's quality stuff, just not the sort of stuff that my brain wants.

I did not complete this book.
dmilewski: (Macbeth the Usurper)
Witch World (1963) began Andre Norton's tedious legacy of Witch World novels. Flat as the proverbial flat earth, an uninteresting and disengaging hero gets transported to a different world, one of magic and technology, that proves far more tedious and less interesting than our own world. (I don't think it's supposed to work that way.)

I found this book so disinteresting that I dropped it halfway through. I simply didn't care to push through the verbiage.

Whatever charm Witch World has, it doesn't have it with me.
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