Monday, November 28, 2016

Nerilka's Story (1986)

Nerilka's Story (1986), a novella by Anne McCaffrey, is set well before the classic era of Pern. The pass is almost over, a disease is about to sweep the land, and Moreta is about to go on her legendary ride.

Against this backdrop is the story of Nerilka, yet another McCaffrey heroine who isn't appreciated at home, doesn't quite fit in with the other girls, and who goes off on her own to find people who appreciate her. Her father is callous, of course, and there's also an egotistical domineering woman who ruins everything.

The story is fairly turnkey McCaffrey fare, competently done and smoothly related. It's a good afternoon read with no major flaws or blemishes, and being a novella, not loaded down with bloat. If it were a novel, I might knock off some points, but it's not. It's just enough of Pern to get a satisfying swig and no more.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Black Horses for the King (1996)

Black Horses for the King (1996) by Anne McCaffrey is a divergence from her usual fantasy and SF fare. In this historical fiction, aimed at young adults, a boy helps King Arthur buy horses, and in doing so, helps him to create the cavalry of Camelot.

The story is first person and mostly straight forward. There isn't much cleverness going on, but there doesn't need to be. The tale itself is experiential, at that cusp where a boy turns into a man, and where his fortunes change from subordinate to peer.

The text moves well. The plot progresses steadily. The characters all seem a little underserved, but there no harm of the story. The antagonist is an annoyance, more unbelievably so than he ought to be, which really weakens his role. The history and horse facts are generally correct with some liberties taken to create a good story.

Overall, I found the work a competent read of YA fiction, perfect for the boys, and possibly perfect for horse girls.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Power Play (1995)

Power Play (1995) by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough brings the Petaybee trilogy to a something of a conclusion. Resembling a wanna-be Northern Exposure more than a SF novel, the book attempts to capture the idiosyncrasies of small town arctic life, making it a rather fluffy read. (There's nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes you just need some cotton candy.)

Make no mistake, this book does not repeat the disaster that was book #2, but instead achieves a lacklusterness in its own right. While not a bad book, it's also not a good book. The plot generally holds together, but does depend on the stupidity of the villains. If stupid villains annoy you, then you will be well and assuredly annoyed. The story generally works, but with so many characters running about, caring about any of them becomes something of a trick.

If the book had been written by some proper comedy writers, it could have worked. Unfortunately, adequately written comedy is experientially lame. Yet, I can't blame them for skewing this direction, because that was the center of the story and really was where it needed to go.

In many places, the story felt rather padded, walking through the plot with little engagement, while in other places, the story skips over interesting parts of the plot, summarizing as it goes. This is pretty much in line with the other books in this series.

Don't put this book down in the middle because you likely won't pick it up again.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Power Lines (1994)

Power Lines by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Scarborough is a narrative catastrophe continuing the Petaybee storyline. In this book, the plot line disintegrates into incoherence, but does eventually stumble about to a conclusion of sort.

In the first book of this series, Anne and Elizabeth showed how they could world together to build a fun world, even if the results were sort of blah. In this book, they struggle back and forth over who has the plot line, demonstrating exactly how not to to write a shared book. They start numerous plot lines, run down equally numerous dead ends, with equally swerves and veers as the plot line gets pounded this way and that with no subtlety, and finally, crawls its way over the finish line and reaches its word count.

Some parts of the book read like summaries rather than plot, especially toward the end, where the writers vainly hope to give us a conclusion, but there's no way that they can give us a satisfying conclusion because what came before produced no coherent narrative to cumulate.

I don't even know who the main character is supposed to be. The book feels more like a bunch of short stories crammed together into a power cord tangle than a proper book. I'd say that the short stories were satisfying, but they're not.

I am truly agog that two experienced writers would produce such a catastrophe.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Powers That Be (1993)

Powers that Be is the first team up of Anne McCaffrey with Elisabeth Anne Scarborough, and the first book of the Petaybee SF series.

An injured Yanaba Maddock is sent to Petaybee for recuperation. In this fairly fluffy SF book, think Northern Exposure meets Ireland in Alaska, she find a bit of adventure, romance, Innuit culture, and the usual cast of McCaffrey idiot villains. In stock SF form, the natives are right, the intruders are idiots, and nobody can talk to each other to actually work out what's going on.

Looking at the cover price of $20 twenty years ago, I'm glad that I didn't pay the price. It's a fun paperback read, but it just doesn't rise to premium levels.

The collaboration usually goes well between the two authors. I think that Scarborough brings a smoothness and humanity to the series that McCaffrey often lacked. Scarborough also brought her knowledge of northwestern America and its people, both their attitude and traditions, which provide the setting and background for the natives. The great thing about using real cultures is that you really don't need to make much up.

I often found the characters hastily realized. At times, too many characters were simply introduced too quickly. They weren't bad, but I really didn't get the time to care about them.

Yana, the lead character, doesn't do very much at all. She shows up, hacks a lung up, gets an investigation mission, hangs out, and doesn't seem to do very much otherwise. Her main power seems to be that she's personable, which in this book seems like a superpower. Her other main power seems to be that she's not an idiot.

All in all, the book's not a bad read. Once you get going, it'll keep your brain occupied. The plot's enough to hold together and get you to the other end. If you're snowed it, it might even be right nice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

American Heritage History of World War I (1964)

American Heritage History of World War I (1964) by S.L.A. Marshall lays out World War I in grim detail, reserves no judgements when warranted, and offers no tonic.

The history is an easy read, assuming that a four year long human catastrophe can be called easy. Optimistically, the war could be called an organized generational genocide, but pessimists would sure use harsher language.

The history is a survey work, delving into details where needed, but mostly focusing on the big arcs and the worldwide theatre. Like all war histories, it's rife with names and locations, enough to leave you dizzy and desperate for an atlas. Marshall generally does a excellent job in taking all those dizzying fact and creating although sometimes overly details narrative.

One place where the narrative bogs down is in the description of the armies. If you aren't into the military aspects of history, the movements of Division III and Corps V will make your eyes glaze over. It's just too much to take in at times, often obscuring the narrative of the battle rather than informing it. It's here that Marshall shows military dinkage, where mastery of details overwhelms situational understanding.

With all the military minutia, if I hadn't been learning about modern army organization recently, I would have been completely lost.

The history itself won't stand against any more detailed history, nor any narrower one, but that's no nock against it. From the beginning, the work understands the limits of its narrative, consistently knowing when too far is too far, even with its military dinkage. The history keeps its eye broad, surveying events in France, Russia, the Middle East, Messopotamia, and the Balkans.

For the student of general history and other eras, it serves as a firm refresher of those four dreadful years. For a student of WW1 history, I doubt that this book has anything additional to offer, even as a refresher.