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Posts Tagged ‘political intrigue’

Book Review: Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

November 22, 2013 1 comment

Man holding mask out away from his face inside a blue porthole against a red planet.Summary:
When out-of-work actor Lorenzo Smythe is approached in a bar by a space pilot with a job offer, he agrees to at least go meet the man’s boss and discuss it.  Quickly, however, Lorenzo finds himself being kidnapped into outer space and impersonating a missing important politician, John Joseph Bonforte, under slight duress.  They must keep the public from knowing the politician has been kidnapped and successfully participate in a Martian adoption ceremony or face interplanetary war.

Review:
I was excited to pick up another Heinlein, and he definitely didn’t disappoint.  Similar to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein presents a delightful mix of wit, Hollywood glamor, and thought-provoking political speeches all in a well-imagined and engaging future society.

In this version of the future, space exploration has led to the discovery of inhabited other planets and two distinctly different opinions on how to interact with those lifeforms.  Either dominate in a manifest destiny style or come to mutual cultural understanding and trade.  The politician Smythe must impersonate, Bonforte, is the leader of the latter faction.  This novel could easily have turned preachy with such a premise, but Smythe himself isn’t too keen on being friends with the aliens.  As an actor, he is committed to playing his role beautifully.  As a person, he isn’t sure he agrees with Bonforte.  This position allows Heinlein to explore both sides of the question, as well as the gray area in-between.  No easy answers are presented, but slowly what is more just is revealed.

Juxtaposed with the political plot is the whole aspect of Smythe being an actor who believes fully in his craft as an artform.  Smythe takes himself very seriously even when others do not.  At first, others view him as full of himself, but slowly they come to respect him and his talents.  Smythe’s large self-esteem may at first cause the reader to roll their eyes as well, but it gradually becomes apparent that having confidence in yourself and your abilities as a professional is not a bad thing.

I was a professional, retained to do a very difficult professional job, and professional men do not use the back stairs; they are treated with respect. (loc 1660)

Although characters at first seem two-dimensional, the main characters slowly become more fleshed out and well-rounded.  Nothing and no one is quite as simple as it at first seems, and Smythe is a great example of that.

What really makes the book, though, is its unexpected wit.  It’s not so much a laugh out loud book, but it’s very much a snort of amusement style of humor that takes the book from interesting to highly enjoyable.

My vocal cords lived their own life, wild and free. (location 40)

I was as angry as a leading woman with her name in small type. (location 1068)

The romance lacked creativity or sparkle.  It is easy to spot the instant it comes up, but it doesn’t come across as natural or meant to be.  It mostly feels like the woman transferring her affection for Bonforte onto Smythe.  I found it a bit squicky that she fails to ever really see Smythe as Smythe, not even after falling in love with him.  Thankfully, the romance is an incredibly minor part of the book.  The book is also slightly dated by the overwhelming presence of paper and microfilm.  We’re talking the spaceship has a library with print books and microfilm. In general even classic scifi tends to imagine a future with at least slightly different versions of books and information exchange.  I found it a bit odd that Heinlein failed to do that.

The ending is not unexpected entirely but it is satisfying and with enough fun details to entertain.  Of the various options for an ending to this story, the one Heinlein took is enjoyable and makes sense within the world he has created.

Overall, this is a fun piece of classic scifi that tosses together acting and politics in outer space with Martians who look like toadstools and a heavy sprinkling of wit.  The romance leaves something to be desired, and the tech isn’t particularly predictive or imaginative, but these are minor aspects of the story.  Recommended to fans of witty scifi who don’t mind a dash of political intrigue.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The Burning Sky by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #1)

November 23, 2011 2 comments

African woman near gears and airships.Summary:
In an alternate vision of history, the Ice Age has lingered in Europe, slowing down Europeans’ rate of civilization and allowing Ifrica (Africa) to take the lead.  Add to this a disease in the New World that strikes down the invaders instead of vice versa, and suddenly global politics are entirely different.  In this world, steam power has risen as the power of choice, and women are more likely to be the breadwinners.  Taziri is an airship co-pilot whose airfield is attacked in an act of terrorism.  She suddenly finds herself flying investigating marshals and a foreign doctor summoned by the queen herself all over the country.  Soon the societal unrest allowing for a plot against the queen becomes abundantly clear.

Review:
Can I just say, finally someone wrote a steampunk book I actually like, and it’s a fellow indie kindle author to boot!  All of the possibilities innate in steampunk that no other book I’ve read has taken advantage of are used to their fullest possibilities by Lewis.

I love that Lewis used uncontrollable environmental factors to change the political dynamics of the world.  Anybody who has studied History for any length of time is aware how much of conquering and advancement is based on dumb luck.  (The guns, germs, and steel theory).  Lewis eloquently demonstrates how culture is created both by the people and their surroundings and opportunities.  For instance, whereas in reality the Native Americans had to rely on dogs for assistance and transportation against invaders on horseback, Lewis has given the Incans giant cats and eagles that they tame to fight invaders.  Similarly, in Europe the Europeans are constantly fighting a dangerous, cold environment and have dealt with this harsh landscape by becoming highly superstitious, religious people.  This alternate setting allows for Lewis to play with questions of colonization, race, and technology versus tradition in thought-provoking ways.

Women are in positions of power in this world, but instead of making them either perfect or horrible as is often the short-coming of imagined matriarchies, there are good and bad women.  Some of the women in power are brilliant and kind, while others are cruel.  This is as it should be because women are people just like men.  We’re not innately better or worse.  Of course, I couldn’t help but enjoy a story where a soldier is mentioned then a character addresses her as ma’am, without anyone feeling the need to point out that this is a woman soldier.  Her gender is just assumed.  That was fun.

Although Taziri does seem to be the main focus of this book, the story is told by switching around among a few main characters who find themselves swept together in the finale for the ultimate battle to save or assassinate the queen.  This strategy reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton’s Next where seemingly unrelated characters suddenly find how their destinies are all connected together.  Lewis does a good job with this, although personally I found the beginning a bit slow-moving.  It all comes together well in the end, though, with everything resulting in a surprising, yet logical, ending.

What kept me from completely loving the book is that I feel it needs to be slightly more tightly edited and paced.  Some sections were longer than they needed to be, which I can certainly understand, because Lewis has made a fun world to play around in, but as a reader reading what amounts to a thriller, I wanted things to move faster.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the steampunk world Lewis has created after a couple of years of loving the fashions and possibilities but finding no steampunk books I liked.  If someone were to ask me where to start with steampunk, I would point them here since it demonstrates the possibilities for exploring race, colonization, and gender, showing that steampunk is more than just an extended Victorian era.

Overall this is a wonderful book, far better than the traditionally published steampunk I’ve read.  I highly recommend it to fans of alternate history, political intrigue, and steampunk alike.  Plus it’s only 99 cents on the kindle.  You can’t beat prices like that.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Won on LibraryThing from the author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Point by Thomas Blackthorne (series, #2)

September 7, 2011 4 comments

Text-heavy black book cover.Summary:
Mysterious cutter circles are showing up in the Britain of the future.  Thirteen teenagers gather in a circle, then slice the wrist of the person next to them all the way around the circle.  The MI5 recruits a neuroscientist to help figure out the circles before they reach epidemic proportions.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Josh Cumberland, finds himself sucked back into his old special forces unit when a civilian job reaches a mysterious end.  Are the two events connected?

Review:
I received an ARC of this book through the Angry Robot Army, and I sort of wish I’d noticed it was the second in a series.  I just dislike reading books out of order.  Also, I think perhaps if I’d read the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have been so misled by the cover.

In case you can’t see the cover, it says, “Britain, tomorrow.  The latest craze: cutter circles.  Thirteen kids. Each has a blade. On a signal everybody cuts. What else is there when life has no point.”  This makes it seem like this will be a book about depression and suicide in a post-apocalyptic world, right?  In fact the people committing suicide have been brainwashed by music in an emotiphone to further a political power move.  Which has…..nothing to do with real suicide or depression.

There’s nothing wrong with being a political intrigue book, but I am a bit disturbed at how Blackthorne utilizes psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience in the book.  He makes it look like in the future we’ll be able to just….program people out of it or to do whatever we want them to do.  The brain is much more complex than that, and I just don’t like the message that such a plot device sends.

When looking at the book as the political espionage it actually is, as opposed to a book about mental illness in a dystopian world, it’s not a bad book.  I have the feeling that those who enjoy political intrigue books will enjoy it.  Josh is your typical wounded hero, and I did enjoy the scenes of him training.   Blackthorne creatively incorporates reality tv into the plot-line that many readers will enjoy.  The characters aren’t flat, but also aren’t particularly well-rounded.  That’s ok, though, because the focus of the book is the action and political intrigue.

Overall, the book seems to be an average future political intrigue action flick…in written form.  I recommend it to fans of that genre, but others will probably be bored.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: ARC from publisher

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