Having read this novella a few days after A Stranger in Olondria, I must confess being predisposed against the Executioness simply because it lacked the beauty of language present in A Stranger in Olondria.
While I enjoyed reading the novella, there were parts that made me struggle to enjoy it. The concepts were compelling – the role of women in life, politics and power; the consequences of magic and the resulting political pressures; the personal cost of geopolitical struggle; tragedy as a motivating force – and I was very excited to see them explored. However, the execution of these concepts often cooled that excitement.
I found Tana’s perspective unconvincing. However, the dialogue of other characters also frequently thrust me out of the story, even though I enjoyed the characters and found them acceptable. Additionally, the story proceeds at a breakneck pace, with little description or evocation of the world. Whether that is a net positive or negative is a matter of preference for the reader, but the chosen style inhibited my ability to feel the world and be immersed and take it seriously. It also resulted in some plot hole moments. There was also a general absence of believable human reactions that struck me as quite odd in several moments.
P.S. The concept of the bramble and its relationship to magic brought to mind Larry Niven’s short story “The Magic Goes Away”, a 1976 story / 1978 novella investigating the consequences of magic. I am excited to read another story that explores the consequences of magic.
Obligatory Kindle Notice!
Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm is an action-oriented adventure with a solid if-scientifically-preposterous concept, some great ideas and some very tense, gripping scenes. The characters are well developed, but in such a way that it builds up a comfortable archetype by focusing on their field of expertise and the interactions with the other members of the team. I never perceived the characters as people, but more in terms of actors playing a part. That may be because the style and plot structure put me in mind of a Hollywood novelization.
The story kicks it off in high gear, showing the incident resulting in the human possession of the alien pod. The international cooperation aspect, with the United States and the post-USSR Russia working together on the down low, is also very interesting, although I wish it had been a more prominent part of the story. The internal US politicking was less engaging, although it was brief. The meat of the story takes place within the alien pod itself. Aside from the preposterous concept (miniaturization of macro-scale objects), Anderson does a great job at weaving cell biology, physiology, and xenology / alien first contact protocols together.
COVER ART REVIEW: I am disappointed. I love the color palette and the silver-embossed text. But in terms of images, there’s nothing to look at! Just a vague reddish haze fading to black, and the vertical purple bar disfiguring the cover is beyond bizarre as well. While they are INSIDE the body of an ALIEN, all we see here on the cover are two short tubes with spikes and one or two attached molecules. A real disappointment, especially when you consider the truly alien environments in “The Inner Life of the Cell” video produced by Harvard University and XVIVO in 2006, or the “Powering the Cell: Mitochondria” video.