Four months ago, I bragged about a great sci-fi fantasy haul from the local used book store. Last week, I finally polished off the last of these books, Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. That puts me at about a book-per-month average, having read The Mote in God's Eye, Sir Apropos of Nothing, and Clarke County, Space between February and now.
Xenocide was the third book in the Ender's Game series. I will say it was better than the last book, Speaker for the Dead, but it was still wildly different from Ender's Game.
That doesn't make it a bad book—Card's ability to build whole epic
plots out of ethical dilemmas is astounding—but it still feels vaguely
like a bait-and-switch. Those of us who adored Ender's Game
for the military tactical aspect, or simply the coming-of-age drama
that the tactics were wrapped around, find themselves in wildly
different territory in the subsequent books. Xenocide is not
a short book, and you have to wade through a whole lot of exposition
and dialectic disguised as internal monologue, but it's a decent read.
I am upset, however, that it is blatantly a middle chapter. The book
begins with a whole planet about to be wiped out by a corrupt
government, and it ends with that central conflict unresolved.
Characters grow and change in the mean time, but it's all setup for Children of the Mind. That bugs me. I won't be rushing out to buy that novel anytime soon; Xenocide didn't grab me enough to make me need to finish the arc. As literary indictments go, that's fairly telling.
Sir Apropos of Nothing probably should have been a funny book. If I was a regular reader of fantasy novels (I've read The Hobbit, and nothing else), it might have been. I love author Peter David's Star Trek
novels (the eight or so I read in high school, anyway). However, David
was riffing the whole time, and went hideously far out of his way to
make the main character—Apropos—dismally unlikeable. I didn't
laugh—most of the gags are based on puns or a cynical subversion of
cliche fantasy tropes—and the prose style really turned me off. The
last part is largely a personal thing. David has confessed to writing
this book on a dare, and it very much felt he just wrote with no idea
where he was going, and used Apropos' internal monlogue to write
himself out of lulls and plot corners. I have used this crutch myself,
so I'm hyperaware of it, and it bugs me. Don't take my distaste as an
Allen Steele's Clark County, Space is a blantant example of
what I call an airport book. You read this book for the same reason you
eat airline peanuts: to pass the time until something more substantial
is available. That's not to say that peanuts are bad, just that you
can't exactly make a meal out of them. Clarke was written
with a wild confluence of ideas—a hard sci-fi space station that hosts
mafia hitmen, an Elvis cult, and vision-questing Indian lawmen—that
span only 230-odd pages. It's disposable fiction. The ride was fun, and
it was amusing to see where the roots of Steele's outstanding Coyote
series began, but I wouldn't call it a must-read. Great for lounging on
beach and giggling over, but unless you read a book every few days, I
wouldn't swing this one into your rotation. Go with Steele's newer
I really don't dislike every book I read. I've just been in a mood lately.
Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.