keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Diamond Star
by Catherine Asaro
495 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I didn't realize how starved I was for good fluff; I sped through this newest Asaro in a single night despite its flaws. I'm not a rock fan, so the premise didn't excite me, but I do adore the Skolian Empire world. Diamond Star involves an all-too-predictable addiction arc. I have little sympathy for Del being broke when he can splurge whenever he wants. Del himself treads a thin line between amusing and annoying. I love Asaro for both politics and relationships, but in this particular book, I wanted more space opera and less obstinate romantic misunderstandings. As [ profile] buymeaclue would say (I hope I get this right): less boyfriend, more roller derby.

Still want more books like The Moon's Shadow, about Aristos politics. Especially Jai/Tarquine. Or even about Kelric, who is more interesting when he's not perceived from the POV of a rebellious teenage rock star. Dehya is really interesting too; I'm not so fond of Roca, but her story seems to have come to an end with Eldrinson's (natural) death.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
* I trimmed my current flist reading filter in an attempt to do actual work this summer, versus Internet reading. I also reorganized tags from "racism" to "race" and combined "sexism" and "feminism" under "gender."

* It is raining ridiculously hard right now. There goes my swimsuit-shopping plans tonight. (ETA: WTF, now there's a perfect blue sky.)

* Catch up on reviews first, and then I will start posting selections from the RaceFail archives with commentary. May or may not be under flock, depending on how inflammatory the content and how argumentative I feel.

* Free e-book: The Element of Fire by Martha Wells. Secondhanded high rec'd.

* Three Catherine Asaro short stories/novellas: Walk in Silence is an SF tale about Lieutenant Colonel Jess Fernández and exemplifies a very carefully and obviously diverse cast telling a moral of interracial conflict. For all its ideological faults as Message Fiction (TM), it's a good read. The Spacetime Pool, a Nebula nominee, is a typical cross-world SF romance; Asaro has done better, but it suffices for what it is. The best of the three, in my opinion--Aurora in Four Voices, a prequel novella to her novel Primary Inversion that tells Soz and Jato's love story; the musical motif is gorgeously done, especially Jato's fugue bird.

* Via [ profile] oyceter, Kali Tal's lengthy critical review of Cybertypes by Lisa Nakamura. Although Nakamura's success happens to be in the area of highest personal interest, I can empathize, having experienced the same frustration as Tal in reading acclaimed African-American studies scholar Cornel West's Democracy Matters.

* For [ profile] yhlee: musician's dice!

* Top 10 reasons to become a librarian. Many of the cited benefits are inaccurate, as I know from talking to actual librarians; but #1 and #3 are why I'm attracted to the field.

* Via yhlee: the ultimate IB test.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Ruby Dice
by Catherine Asaro
392 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I started reading this on the way back from the library. When I got home, I really really needed to study for midterms. Guess what I did instead? Finished reading The Ruby Dice, of course.

Asaro's Skolian Empire series is huge by now, but she always thoughtfully includes a glossary reference and in-text catchups for new readers. The catchups read as basically infodumps, but I remember how much they helped me the first time and they weren't too hard to skip over. This novel deals with Kelric and Jaibriol III after they become Imperator and Emperor of Eube respectively, nine years after an initial peace attempt--the Paris Accord--fell through. I love F/SF politics, and Asaro is one of the best at mixing complex SF politics with equally complex characters and families (the Valdoria/Skolia/Ruby Dynasty family tree is quite intimidating). Jai and Tarquine have a lovely, laugh-out-loud relationship; I wish Asaro would do another book on just Eube, and I absolutely can't wait for her next one to continue the overall plot arc. This book ends on essentially the climax, which is rare these days; but it leaves you trying to catch your breath, coming down from immersion high, and that feeling is totally worth the lost studying time.

The two trademarks of Asaro's stories are strong characters and excellent worldbuilding--here, she doesn't disappoint on either account. I enjoyed the examples of realistic, slowly growing love (Jai/Tarquine, Kelric/Jeejon) rather than romance's usual love-at-first-sight trope. Most of the characters weren't new to me, other than a gap of several months, but I connected with all of them (oh, Hidaka, I love you so). And I absolutely adore the dynamic and convoluted web of relations (familial, political, etc.). I think The Ruby Dice is Asaro's most dramatic work to date--the plot rushes along, smooth as a a river's torrents (i.e. not very but in a good way). At the very end especially, I almost couldn't handle the suspense. I knew what I logically could expect to happen, but I also knew that the author was daring enough to flip that expectation.

Now for the negatives: Asaro isn't going to win any awards for poetic prose. At times the style is downright pedestrian, though always useful and concise--much like ISC, the Skolian military. I'm not sure how much a new reader will get out of this, simply because I'm coming with knowledge of so much backstory--I've read all of her Skolia novels except one (The Radiant Seas, unavailable at the library and I've never gotten around to purchasing it). As I said before, though, her early exposition passages help greatly with comprehension. Also, don't be put off by the cover, which is ugly as hell--the huge hand looks like radioactive putty and the Quis dice like plastic toys. I guess the publisher is trying to appeal to the romance side of her audience, though the background is also very techy.

This is a wholehearted rec to all SF and romance fans; Asaro writes hard SF romances, and she mixes the genres with quite a lot of experience. The character arc continued by this novel begins with The Last Hawk, then Ascendant Sun and The Moon's Shadow (the last of which is about Jai's ascension to the Carnelian Throne and his marriage to Tarquine). My reviews of most of Asaro's novels are also accessible through tags; be warned that her fantasy romance series for the Luna line is very, very different.
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The Quantum Rose
by Catherine Asaro
419 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Sci-Fi/Romance

After I discovered in the author bios of Irresistible Forces that this novel was actually a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I had to go back and finish reading. It is interesting and compelling (I seem to be using that word a lot lately) but not particularly urgent, given that I easily put it aside for three weeks after reading three-quarters of it. There aren't any obvious flaws though, so I suppose it deserves the Nebula.

I still can't believe it's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

ETA: What does it say about Asaro, that I feel no pressing need to summarize this? Her Skolia books are a reliable romance pick-me-up, but they definitely repeat elements. If you've never tried her, don't start here. If you have--The Quantum Rose is good, but maybe not worth buying new if a cheaper option is available. Or maybe it is. Depends on personal taste, and I can only speak for mine.
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Irresistible Forces
by Catherine Asaro (ed.)
383 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Historical

An anthology of speculative romance pieces, short story-novelette length (I think). It took me a while to get into it, but I'm a picky romance reader. The stories are all technically excellent, but some appeal more to the romance reader dabbling in speculative than the reverse.

"Winterfair Gifts" by Lois McMaster Bujold
The first piece. I read about five pages before stopping for a long time, but the story is mesmerizing once it really gets going. I love the  truly unconventional romance, the non-stupidity of the characters, and most of all the height differentials. Bujold weaves an amusing subconflict out of natural, uncontrived details. My first introduction to the Vorkosigans, but I'll definitely be seeking out her other sci-fi books in addition to her fantasy.

"The Alchemical Marriage" by Mary Jo Putney
Putney is apparently a NYT-bestselling author, and I can sort of see why--but not in a good way. Her stories are compelling, but also stereotypical and cliche. Soulmates are very, very hard to pull off and I don't think Putney succeeded. For one, the love seems more like lust. Or love at first sight. I can't decide which is worse. I don't much like Putney's prose style either--there are a few annoying breaks from third person limited multiple, and she overuses the dreaded "was." I might read Putney only if I'm in desperate need of a cheesy no-thinking romance.

"Stained Glass Heart" by Catherine Asaro
Lovely romance as I can reliably expect from Asaro's Skolia series, but The Moon's Shadow is still my favorite. This passed the tears test, so all's good.

"Skin Deep" by Deb Stover
Engaging, but it doesn't really stick in my mind. The Nick-Margo relationship is realistic; Jared is flat at first but develops nicely. My issue is mainly with the setting--it's too mainstream for my taste. The frame story about Heaven and Seamus intrigued me more than the main tale, maybe because it's the speculative element. This just isn't fantasy enough for me, I guess.

"The Trouble With Heroes" by Jo Beverley
Powerful, and my favorite story in the anthology. The world is well-developed, realistic and unreal at the same time. I loved the theme of sacrifice--true sacrifice that doesn't end in death. And, Monty Python is "a key work to understanding ancient Earth warfare"! Hee. The brief mention of cod was close to my heart and saddening too, the more so because I know how easily it could actually happen. Has Beverley written any sci-fi novels like this?

"Shadow in the Wood" by Jennifer Roberson
One of the better Arthurian retellings. It was elegant and worthwhile, but not special.

I think I'm just picky about speculative romances.
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Catch the Lightning
by Catherine Asaro
352 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

Nearing the end of my Asaro reading spree--I still have a novella of hers in Irresistible Forces and a personal copy of The Quantum Rose, but the light is approaching! Not that I don't love Asaro and her crazy physics, but this is the tenth volume that I've read in half of one month. Some authors, like George R.R. Martin and Guy Gavriel Kay, I can read over and over without getting bored--unfortunately, Asaro hasn't joined that list.

This didn't work for me. Doesn't mean that it's a bad book or Asaro's a bad writer--it just didn't click for me. I read it quickly and enjoyed it somewhat, but the romance stayed superficial. There's a lot of narrative infodump, and I do mean a lot. Easy to skim over, but still annoying. Chronology also screwed with my head--by publication date this is the second book, but in chronological order it's the latest. I'm assuming that it occurs after The Moon's Shadow, since Althor Selei doesn't exist then. As a side effect, this book (Catch the Lightning) is extremely inconsistent. For one, Dehya is still the Assembly Key when she should be co-ruling as the Ruby Pharaoh. I'm okay with small plot-holes from book to book--I didn't exactly read in order, after all--but Assembly Key /=/ Ruby Pharaoh. That's a huge difference in plot.

Asaro tries really hard to make each of her books self-contained, and I appreciate that. But after ten books, it's tedious to read the same (often near-verbatim) explanations. I'm on the fence about recommendation--decide for yourself.

- [profile] calico_reaction's review
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Schism: Part One of Triad
by Catherine Asaro
398 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

Plot: Sauscony Valdoria Skolia (Soz) leaves her home world of Lyshriol against her father's wishes and attends the Dieshan Military Academy (DMA, also coincidentally the acronym for the Delaware Military Academy). I'm running out of things to comment on; like I said in an earlier review, Asaro's strengths and weaknesses don't vary much from book to book. I read Part Two of Triad first out of the entire Saga, and I immediately fell in love with Soz. This volume necessarily suffers from lack of tension, but it's partially my fault for reading all over the place. The background exposition is also identical to previous books, making me wonder if Asaro just keeps the relevant explanations in a text file somewhere, ready to be copy-pasted in. But of course that can't be true. Still, Soz's story is fascinating. I only wish her classes were the focus instead of the "world" events; I think this would have succeeded better as more bildungsroman and less space opera.

Spherical Harmonic
by Catherine Asaro
428 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

An experimental style in the opening, which I think succeeded in truly showing Dehya's experience with coalescing. Which is basically what happens: Dehya (Dyhianna Selei, Ruby Pharaoh) returns to existence after spending some time as thought waves in Kyle space, then proceeds to overthrow the Imperial Assembly and partially reinstate it. I liked the use of grammar to show the Shay language. This volume has the most obvious hard science, perhaps due to Dehya being a genius at math and Asaro being in love with spherical harmonics (I have no idea what they are, except that the pictures of gradiant balls are pretty). For hard-core sciency folks, there's a lengthy author's note/essay at the end explaining lots of stuff. I skimmed over it because I'm trying to finish all my self-assigned reading homework before Alpha on Wednesday.

The Moon's Shadow
by Catherine Asaro
478 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

This story overlaps with Spherical Harmonic and to a lesser extent Ascendant Sun. Told in tight third from Jaibriol III (Jai)'s POV, it is a long and hard look into the inner machinations of the Eubian Concord aka Trader Empire. Jai, the daughter of Soz and Jaibriol from Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas, trades himself in exchange for his uncle Eldrin to become, at age 17, the new Emperor Qox. Scheming and assassination attemps ensue; Jai must simultaneously protect himself from overwhelming Aristo minds and use his abilities as a psion to gain advantage in cutthroat, convulted Eubian politics. He ends up marrying Tarquine Iquar, Eube's Finance Minister and one of the few Aristos who have decided to perform surgery on themselves to stop transcending. I've been fascinated by the Trader society since Day One of reading this series; I started and finished this book in the same day. IMHO, Asaro's best yet.

Yay, I'm all caught up! Currently reading Peony In Love; expect (possibly brief) reviews of The Prodigal Troll and Catch the Lightning pre-Alpha, plus maybe Irresistible Forces. I have a new stack of library books! Also, this makes 30 books since I started keeping count on May 9th, my birthday.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
by Catherine Asaro
317 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

Chronologically the first in Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire series, this novel features Roca Skolia and Eldrinson Valdoria as the main coupling. It successfully builds tension despite the reader knowing what will happen in the end--always a sign of skillful writing. I liked the unique POC (people of color); though minority groups are not cuturally represented, Asaro deals plenty with xenophobic natives and humans of all shapes, sizes, and colors. After a lot of biased character looks at Kurj, it was also nice to get his introspection in a tight third POV.

I did have issues with consistency, though much of it really applies to the entire series. For one, Ruby psions are supposedly 1-in-a-billion or rarer, but various characters seem to have no trouble encountering mates who are Ruby or have recessive/unpaired Ruby genes (Roca/Eldri, Soz/Jaibriol, Kelric/Savina). Plus, all the empaths are "good"--why can't they be "evil" once in a while?

And Kurj is a hypocrite, which annoyed me. Though that's just how he is and not Asaro's fault at all.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Last Hawk
by Catherine Asaro
463 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

Another volume of Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire. This one is the prequel to Ascendant Sun, concerning Kelric and the 20 years he spends trapped on the planet Coba. The planet is ruled by twelve Estates, each led by a female Manager, who are led in turn by the Minister. Severely injured, Kelric is rescued from his Jag's wreckage by Manager Deha Dahl. He learns of the dice game Quis (which is absolutely fascinating) while recuperating and also meets the young Ixpar, Successor to Minister Karn.

Kelric tries more than once to escape, but the inhabitants of Coba are protecting their culture from the Empire by hiding behnd a false Restricted status, and he cannot be allowed to risk leaving. Against his will, Deha inducts Kelric into her Calanya (a harem of sorts of male Quis players) and makes him her Akasi--husband. Thus begins his journey from Dahl to Haka to Bahvla to Miesa to Varz to, finally, Karn. Kelric has an extraordinary talent for Quis and makes history by becoming a Sixth Level Calani--Ixpar trades the Ministry to Varz in order to save him from Aztac's brutalities. He is ultimately the cause for the first Coban war in centuries.

As a speculative novel, The Last Hawk is an intriguing take on invented matriarchal culture, infused with Asaro's customary science. As a romance, the plot, characters, and setting all kept me up late reading. And for pure innovation, Asaro should certainly win a prize for the creation of Quis.

I don't totally understand the game of Quis; something to ask Ms. Asaro at Alpha, I guess. I don't even know if Quis could exist in the real world, because basically it ascribes all science to three-dimensional geometric patterns. I can't do it justice; just read the book already and see for youself (and keep Ascendant Sun handy, because I wish I'd read them in proper order).

Note to say that this novel is perfect; none are. Kelric's (attractive) appearance is described multiple times, and somehow five of the most powerful women on Coba all fall in love with him--and the feeling is mutual in at least three cases. That strains my suspended disbelief, though Asaro explains it by saying that empaths fall very easily in love.

Still, this book lives up to Asaro's standard. Recommended to the usual people--SF and romance readers, plus matriarchy-oriented fantasy writers.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Primary Inversion
by Catherine Asaro
317 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

Asaro's debut novel, and it has a much different cover--did she change publishers? The cover art is definitely aimed toward the hard-SF readers, while her later covers feature high-tech characters and couples (aiming more toward romance readers). Chronologically, this story falls between, I believe, The Final Key and The Radiant Seas. The former was the first of her books I ever read; the latter isn't available at the library or at the Greensburg B&N, so whether I'll read it anytime soon remains to be seen. As the Amazon blurb says, basically a reworking of the classic Romeo and Juliet dilemma (random off-topic note: I always remember how to spell "dilemma" by telling myself it's not "deli"). Primary Sauscony Valdoria Skolia (Soz) meets Jaibriol Qox, discovers he is a Rhon psion, and promptly falls in love. However, they are the respective heirs to the Skolian and Trader Empires, which have good reason to hate each other. The science aspect of narration is detailed--like always--but not too overwhelming. Overall, an excellent novel.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Charmed Sphere
by Catherine Asaro
471 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Romance

Sadly, Asaro's debut fantasy novel doesn't live up to her SF standards. The style is the same, with the same weaknesses--ample description of physical appearances, telling of emotions, almost-but-not-quite perfect characters. But in the Saga of the Skolian Empire, the issues are minimized by overall coherence and excellent science. In this fantasy, the same strengths are present--an intriguing magic system, ultimately imperfect characters, lovely romance--but Asaro never digs herself out of the cliche pit. Fantasy and science fiction are both speculative genres, but it isn't as easy to switch between the two, and in my opinion Asaro severely underestimated the challenge of writing original fantasy. Allow me to list the cliche elements: initial meeting with hidden identity, Chime's beauty, a flat and obviously evil antagonist, special (SPESHUL) and unique mage characters. Virginity makes Chime and Muller's love so much the sweeter--"Knowing they came together new and fresh, by their own choice, sweetened their passion." [p. 265] The couple is also married against all odds, yet readers are told that no one could be forced to marry without giving consent; so why worry about people opposing their union? In fact, many of Asaro's books could do with a final proofreading to detect tiny inconsistencies and typos. Jarid is indeed a fool for not killing Varquelle, and it's obvious setup for the sequel. The geometric magic system is very cool, but the price isn't high enough--a certain miraculous almost-death completely destroyed my respect for the magic. If all that isn't enough, we also have to deal with annoying dramatic irony AKA readers knowing things that the characters don't, which equals no tension. The last sentence of the book: "But whatever labors lay ahead, their intertwined lives and love would make it worthwhile." Okay, I get it, it's a romance and a Happily Ever After; must you scream it in my ear?

My many complaints notwithstanding, this is a bearable if mediocre read. Though I have serious reservations about reading The Misted Cliffs. Character growth is contrived, the narrative suffers from over-telling, and both the prologue and epilogue are unnecessary, but the romance is still compelling. It's a pity, because if I hadn't already tried and loved Asaro's SF, I would surely avoid her work. Recommended only to romance fans not looking for decent fantasy.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Final Key: Part Two of Triad
by Catherine Asaro
348 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF

This was the first of Asaro's books I read, as Alpha homework. Despite being part of a larger saga and the second of a set within that series, everything made perfect sense and I loved it. The exposition is a bit shocking with all the technical details, as I don't read SF often (unfortunately, Asaro's fantasy series doesn't look promising). I would label this hard SF, but it focuses heavily on character (and other books in the saga focus on romance). However--there are non-annoying, plausible empaths! And superior upper-class characters that work! (In multiple senses of the word.) I did yearn to learn more about the Trader Empire and hear their side of the story, because if someone were to start in the middle with this novel, the Traders are painted as very black and evil. But...

Ascendant Sun
by Catherine Asaro
367 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF

This book, which follows a very different protagonist and storyline from The Final Key, presents a wonderful, complex portrait of the ruling Aristo class of the Trader Empire and a deep look at differences in idealogy among the Traders, the Skolian Imperialate, and the Allied Worlds of Earth. I loved the in-depth discussion of slavery and just generally all the themes of this novel. Although I empathized more with Soz (from above) than Kelric, Asaro does a great job of characterizing the extensive family dynasties of her world(s). I did cheat by referring to the genealogy charts and chronological timeline in the back, because I can't resist spoilers. Even so, I was left with lots of questions: for instance, were Soz and Jaibriol II in love? I can think of several compelling reasons for them to hate each other, and yet... I can't wait to read Spherical Harmonic and the rest of Asaro's saga. I need to complete the loose ends. And that's the hallmark of an accomplished writer--I'm not a hardcore SF reader, but I'm drawn to and half in love with this series.

In general notes, I was annoyed at the repeated exposition in Ascendant Sun because I'd just finished The Final Key, but I completely understand why it's needed and how it'd be useful even to returning readers after a hiatus. It's a more than fair tradeoff. Shallow first impression: the cover art on Ascendant Sun was terrible (though accurate), while the hardcover's art was much better. Asaro's SF is highly recommended to experienced genre readers and interstitial book-lovers, though not as strongly for someone used to mainstream (the exposition and worldbuilding is necessarily heavy). I have one of her fantasy romance books in the queue, so a verdict on that will be delivered in the future.


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January 2011



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