Saturday, January 26, 2013

Two Long Running Series

The Tears of the Sun (Emberverse Series #8)Betrayer: Foreigner #12I've read some books in long running SF series recently, and it's made me think about how to handle that sort of story. The big problem is how unwieldy things get -- after five or ten books it's hard to summarize what when on before, either for new readers or fans who didn't want to reread a few thousand pages before starting the new tome. Unfortunately the two books I look at here don't do this will amazing skill; both suffer from slow pacing. Cherryh's book kept me interested, but I wanted to worry about the individuals a bit more. Stirling's book is hamstrung by his need to stop every few pages and remind readers what happened to his world, his characters, and his plot. He's got about fifty pages of plot tucked in among six hundred pages of back story.

Betrayers, by C.J. Cherryh. It was easy to turn the pages of this installment of the Foreigner series, and I enjoyed meeting up with Bren and his atevi friends. I think I've skipped at least one and possibly more, and the thought of rereading the whole series is daunting, but I'll probably try to keep current (the next one is out already, so I'll keep an eye out in the library).

I do think Cherryh is at her best at setting up new situations, so an endless series doesn't showcase her skills that well.  For a while she varied things up for Bren by shooting him into space or dropping him back out, but this book just advances the complicated political setup of the world by a few days, moving the political situation forward and showing a bit of growing maturity by the atevi boy Cejari, but Bren himself doesn't seem to be changing much.  The world building is solid enough that I'm interested in knowing what happens next, but a better draw would be in wanting to know what happens to Bren next, and lately the answer seems to be that he moves around a bit.

She does a good job of only telling about what is important now, and not stopping things to remind me of past resonances that I'll either get or miss depending on how much I remember. And she limits the viewpoint characters to ones that are important to the story (mostly Bren), so I don't need a notepad to keep track. I still like seeing new books from her, although I still prefer racing along with her trying to figure out a brand new world and situation.

The Tears of the Sun, S.M. Stirling. OK, this is getting silly. I've been loyally reading all the books of the Change because the concept was fun (technology stops working!) and the first few books did interesting things with that concept (Renaissance Faire rulers and Tolkien fanatic troops!). But it was not a good sign when one book ended with the fierce cliffhanger of the princess getting kidnapped by the Evilest Villains Ever and my response was "oh well, there will probably be another book in a year or two; I wonder if I should put it on hold or just wait until I see it at the library??". And indeed by now I just wait for the paperback to show up at the library. But this book is a new low in lack of tension. Let me summarize the plot: The bad guy's army approaches, so the good guys delay things a bit so they can start the fighting where they want it. People reminisce about their pasts a bit. That's it!

OK, during one bit that takes place mostly off stage there's a daring rescue of some family of the bad guy, during which somebody dies, and two mainish characters get extended flashbacks to something that happened a year or so ago, just in case the dizzying pace of the glacial plot was causing nose bleeds or something. In the final pages, there's a battle and the conflict has begun! Wait for the next book (which I believe is out, but I'll wait for the library to put the paperback out for me). But there are far too many characters who spend far too much time thinking about things they already know ("Hmm, these houses are building using an innovative technique that I will quickly detail here. How strange it is that twenty years ago, when I was using electricity, this was unusual! Kids today don't even know what electricity is, golly gee.")

At this point I'm not picking up Stirling's new books, and I'm wondering if I have the patience to finish this series. But I know I will, because I'm a completest that way, and anyway it looks like stuff might happen in another few hundred pages or so.

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