Thursday, 5 September 2013

Review: Fool's War

Fool's War
Fool's War by Sarah Zettel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book largely because I was on an episode of The Skiffy and Fanty podcast with the author, and was impressed with the intelligent things she said about speculative fiction. (I don't think that particular podcast episode has been released yet at the time I'm writing this review.)

I'm going to assume it's not her best work. It's not terrible, but I lost enthusiasm for it at 39% of the way through the ebook. It's a long book, and I felt like I was ready for the story to wrap up not too long after that point, but instead there was more than half of it left to go.

Partly this is because, at 39% (and having not marked some in the first couple of chapters, because you can't highlight things on Kindle when you're reading the sample), I had already hit 54 errors that annoyed me enough to highlight. Everything from an inconsistent number of hours to the jump point, to multiple homonym errors (pouring/poring, effect/affect, past time/pastime, who's/whose, to/too, everyday/every day, wreak/wreck, it's/its, exercisers/exercises), to missing words, missing spaces, misplaced apostrophes and commas, disagreements of tense and number... all the classic errors were there, and in large numbers. That sort of thing is distracting from the story.

I was reading along, though, thinking, "This isn't a bad space opera. At least the computers aren't out of the 1960s. There's even a kind of cyberpunk thing going... Oh, it's cyberpunk." And, unfortunately, there are two things that cyberpunk often has trouble with, and this book also has trouble with them. One is making interface metaphors too literal, and another is providing a believable justification for any sense of true risk to the person in cyberspace. There was a reason given for why there was a risk, but to me it came across as contrived.

I also didn't find the logic that set up the situation consistent. On the one hand, bandwidth was incredibly expensive, which justified carrying data in ships. That, by itself, is fine and believable and gives your ships something to carry that isn't raw materials - more realistic than the average space opera. But then that's all completely undermined when the Fool is able (without the very alert sysadmin noticing) to steal enough bandwidth to get her entire consciousness several systems away, and bring back several other people.

And then the Fool has to do something dangerous because she's the only one who can... except that, cyberspace being what it is, surely at least one of the other people in cyberspace with her can do whatever she can do, since distance makes no difference and none of them is physically present in the first place.

That was when I stopped reading. I was enjoying the unusual characters (women, non-Westerners, people of faith), but mainly for the fact that they were unusual. Apart from the owner of the ship, they weren't yet fleshed out to the point that I felt very close to them as characters, and I bid them farewell without regret.

I will look out for other Sarah Zettel books, in the hope that I can find one that represents the highly intelligent person I enjoyed chatting with on that podcast. Preferably one that's been past a really good editor, too.

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