Tag: crappy photo of cover art sorry folks better luck next time

Blasphemy

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Genre Disclaimer: Blasphemy belongs to the “crappy particle accelerator based thriller (science) fiction” genre. I included science this time, but qualified it with parentheses, as this is definitely a character based thriller mystery. Well, I’m not sure if I should say character: perhaps archetype is better. Or stereotype. Whichever, it’s alright, but not great, although if you like thrillers, then it may be decent. Interestingly enough, it’s actually a minor plot point that the characters have their archetypal personalities and extreme outlooks, but the reasoning was thin and it was a stretch.

Speaking of stretching, while the plot is actually gripping and tense, it’s simultaneously disappointing in that it refuses to let you suspend your disbelief. Rather, it prefers to pretend continually that highly unlikely things (mainly the armed chaos towards the end) would actually occur, while the whole time it’s obvious that it is the authors’ artifice pushing things towards the conclusion and nothing more. The mustache twirling holier-than-thou villainy that occurs towards the end is sigh-worthy, and I found Blasphemy’s depiction of both religious people and mentally troubled individuals blasphemously insulting. Instead of presenting characters who were believably motivated by their faith, belief, and viewpoints, Blasphemy presents mindless extremists who happen to also be religious and/or scientists. Subtlety didn’t just lose this fight: it never showed up. And the paperback is 544 pages.

I’ve also noticed that this is the third clearance book I’ve picked up with a female character named Kate who plays the role of “idealized sexually attractive woman”. (To be honest, that characterizes most of the female characters in this book, which is also a little off-putting.)

Blasphemy was published in 2008 by Forge Books and is apparently the second book in the Wyman Ford series.

COVER ART REVIEW: … wait. The cover is yellow. (and unremarkable.) But why is this picture green?

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The Braided World

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By Kay Kenyon

There is a lot packed in here, and in a good way: varied, believable characters who change as the story goes on; a deeply disturbing culture that is quite plausible; a mystery of a galactic scale;  a first contact situation; power struggle politics; love and romance; mutinies; etc etc etc.

The opening threw me for a loop, though, so I’ll get it out of the way here. The first thirty-odd pages are disorienting, and not in a good way: we get a scene-setting prologue, psyching us up for a first contact scene, and then a chapter title page, and THEN… it transitions into a calm scene revealing they’ve been on the planet for weeks, speak the native tongue, and established basic relations. Whaat? Then the viewpoint skips around a bit, and it skips forward in time again (though not as far), and again, and it was around there that I fell into the rhythm of the book and didn’t notice it any further.

The different viewpoint characters are well done, with each character’s view and thoughts being convincingly different without being artificially so. Nick’s viewpoint is the only one that seems too contrived. The non-viewpoint characters are also well established, with surface and subsurface & sub-subsurface layers, with corresponding motives, each colliding and allowing dynamic character development that changes as the novel goes on.

Initially, the story strikes a grim tone, with the humans’ starship threatened by a breakout of lethal plague, no sign of the high-technology culture they are seeking, and lost, alone, and inable to understand or act effectively in the local Dassa culture. The integral role that slave labor and mutilation play in Dassa society only strengthen that feeling. However, partway through that grim feeling peaks, and a more determined, resurgent feel flares up to replace it, as the characters begin to gain more agency and understanding. While the humans’ feeling of being alone on an alien world surrounded by alien cultures never fades, they begin to understand the local culture and how to interact with it.

Some may wish to steer clear of this novel, as The Braided World portrays slave labor and mutilation fairly unflinchingly. However, these traditions of the Dassa are wrestled with by the main characters and some Dassa, and raise important anthropological questions about humanity, the Dassa, society, morality, and individual characters. They also provide important motivations and conflicts, and are the basis of nearly everything in the novel. Essentially, they are handled with care. Less grimly, the first third of the book was filled with scenes that evoke that awkward feeling that arises from witnessing a social transgression, as the humans are not entirely sure how to treat the Dassa.

The worldbuilding is very well done, establishing a unique and detailed world, both in terms of the landscape and ecology, the dwellings and buildings and artifacts of Dassa cultural life, and their behavior, before slowly fading in intensity as development of the world and introduction of the characters gives way to plot action, character action, and drama.

Cover Art Review: Actually relevant to the story! Simple yet effective design! Super neat LENS FLARE! AGHHHHH I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!

Postscript: Dark matter clouds and information gradients are not a thing that sounds plausible, but- okay, okay.