Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: The Just City

The Just City
The Just City by Jo Walton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Utopias are a fascinating idea, and not to be undertaken lightly. Jo Walton here pulls off not only a book that works both as a novel of ideas and as a novel, but also an impressive feat of research and scholarship.

Let me first reemphasise that it completely works as a novel. The characters have depth, agency, growth, change, things they strive for and things they achieve. There are several viewpoint characters, whose plot arcs intersect, but the book opens in the viewpoint of Apollo, who is confused about why Daphne would rather be transformed into a tree than have sex with him. He decides to become incarnate in order to learn about "choice and equal significance", basically the idea that all thinking beings have agency and ought to have the opportunity to pursue agency, and that each person's choice is valuable. This becomes the major theme of the book, and as Apollo learns, so do a number of the other characters, who confront the same question from multiple different viewpoints.

That, by itself, would be a great story, but then there's the audacious setting. The gods, who are outside time, can move people around in time if they want, and Athene has decided to run an experiment. She's going to set up Plato's Republic at a time and place where no traces will later be left (because of the volcanic eruption that destroyed half of the island of Thera, before Plato's time, and gave rise to the legend of Atlantis, neatly looping round into the Republic again). And she's going to populate it first with "masters", scholars who, at some point in history, prayed to her to be part of establishing the Republic - many of whom are women, since Plato proposed female equality. Famous Neoplatonists and translators of Plato are gathered alongside more obscure devotees, and then they collect, again from various times, more than ten thousand (approximately)-ten-year-old children to form the population of the Republic. As these children grow to adulthood, the grand experiment must deal with conflict over means and ends, the fact that Plato didn't understand interpersonal relationships very well, and the rise to sentience of the robots that Athene has brought from the future to take the place of slaves.

And also with Sokrates, that kind, ugly, wise man, the gadfly, the teacher of Plato, who has been brought to the Just City (against his express wish) in order to teach the children rhetoric. The Republic wasn't his idea, he doesn't approve of it, and, in the end, he engages Athene in public debate over the rightness of the experiment, with remarkable results.

I'm no classical scholar - I have read Plato, but as a teenager, more than 30 years ago, and I don't remember much - so I can't speak to how accurate the research is, including the historical people. That's probably a good thing, because it means I can't nitpick any inaccuracies there may be. What I can say is that as a story, this is very good, and as a piece of thinking, it's even better than that. It touches on concerns of power, free will, informed consent, equality, and what is good and right to do in pursuit of a well-ordered society, and does so on levels that span from the intrapersonal through the interpersonal to the level of the state, and from multiple complementary angles. We end up with something much more like a sculpture than a painting, and a sculpture that repays close attention to its details, as well.

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Review: Children of Arkadia

Children of Arkadia
Children of Arkadia by M. Darusha Wehm

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Utopias stop working right around the time you add the people.

I know Darusha Wehm slightly on social media, since we're both Podiobooks authors and members of SpecFicNZ. She sent me a copy of this book directly when I mentioned to her that the version on Netgalley was protected by DRM and I couldn't get it on my Kindle.

I previously listened to part of Darusha's [b:Self Made|7726126|Self Made (Andersson Dexter, #1)|M. Darusha Wehm||10489905] on Podiobooks, but gave it up because it was moving too slowly for my taste, and the protagonist wasn't engaging to me. I'm glad I gave her work another chance with this one.

This still doesn't set out to be a fast-moving, plot-driven thrill ride, certainly - it's more of a novel of ideas, though the outright lecturing is kept to a minimum and done in a way that isn't infodumpy or dull. I found it enjoyable, and had no difficulty staying until the end. It's the story of a utopian experiment, set in a space habitat orbiting Jupiter, one of several set up by a trust to provide refuge for political activists and dissidents from what sounds like an increasingly dystopian and authoritarian Earth.

Rather than a single protagonist and a single through-line, it consists of overlapping plot arcs from a number of different points of view. The number of POVs, to me, came close to the line of being too many, but didn't cross it.

Through several generations, the story follows the society as it evolves to deal with the realities of its situation, and as those in power make compromises and mistakes which impact everyone. Among the themes are overt and covert power, keeping secrets from people "for their own good", requiring people to have children for the good of society, how a non-capitalist society might work (the politics of the refugees who form the centre of the colony are more or less those of the Occupy movement), and how a society deals with recognising people as citizens who have previously been regarded as subhuman (the artificial intelligences who help to run the colony).

I read Jo Walton's [b:The Just City|22055276|The Just City|Jo Walton||39841651] immediately afterwards, which happens to have many of the same themes and a similar setup, so I can't help but compare the two. To me, Walton writes a more successful book, because there's nothing extraneous in it, the themes are clearer, the conflicts stronger, and I didn't find myself falling out of suspension of disbelief at any point. That's not to say that Wehm's book is bad; it very much is not. However, it does have a couple of minor issues.

Mainly, the interlocking plot threads sometimes peter out without true resolution, or the conflicts resolve too easily. Early on, for example, there's a "free rider" problem. There's a technical issue preventing the production of as many bots as are needed to do all the work of setting up the colony, and so human volunteers are needed to help. However, part of the colony's idealistic charter is that nobody will be forced to work or directly compensated for doing so (no capitalists, corporatists or conservatives need apply); it's a Universal Basic Income scenario, in which everyone's basic needs are met without anything being required of them in return. The problem is that a lot of the political activists and "thinkers" in the colony don't feel any social obligation to help out even with pressing practical problems; that's not their area.

This is a conflict, and then the conflict goes away and is never mentioned again. Partly this is because bot production steps up, but I would have thought there would still be "free rider" issues that could be explored. More than that, within a few years the attitude to coerced contribution seems to have changed; even though the intent was that there wouldn't be any universal laws and each community would regulate itself, now there's a proposal that all women be required to bear children, because the population needs to grow, and this proposal passes - with opposition, but without, apparently, effective opposition. I had difficulty suspending my disbelief about that, mainly because reproductive choice is such a strong part of the beliefs of most people who would hold the kind of sentiments depicted as being so prevalent among the colonists, and because we've shifted so quickly from an anarchist utopia to a central government (however minimalist).

Setting aside such issues, though, I felt that the strength of this book was in linking personal relationships to political and social issues. A key plot point is resolved because a character can't bring himself to pursue his ideals at the expense of a member of his family; later, another member of his family is on the other end of quite a different decision by the AIs. (I felt this could have been strengthened if the second family member had been a direct descendant of the first.)

Competently written, exploring important themes of how we build our societies and interact with each other and with our technologies, this is a worthwhile book and an enjoyable read.

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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Review: Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology

Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology
Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology by Jordan Ellinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this book after reading the introduction via Urban Fantasy magazine. The intro is from the son of Roger Zelazny, one of my favourite writers, who died of colon cancer, and the proceeds of the book go to colon cancer charities.

I enjoyed some of the selections, though the book did have one major problem: it doesn't appear to have been past a copy editor, meaning that the stories are just as they have come from the contributors. Now, in some cases, they're professional enough that this doesn't matter, because they produce a clean manuscript, or, in the case of the reprints, the story may already have been copy edited. In other cases, though, this puts some embarrassing and distracting errors on display.

It also seems to be a rule for anthologies that the editors make at least one error in their introduction, and here it's "poured" when they mean "pored".

Now to the stories. They're in several sections. The first is Sword and Sorcery, which has a tendency to veer into Grimdark - in other words, unpleasant stories about unpleasant characters who almost deserve their considerable suffering. That's not the case for all of them, fortunately, but it is for most.

"The Edge of Magic", Henry Szabranski: The story of an unhappy marriage and the war between men and women.

"Annual Dues", Ken Scholes: A redemptive moment for a grimdark character? That doesn't end well.

"Elroy Wooden Sword", S.C. Hayden: A genuinely good-hearted and heroic character is, of course, a naive dupe. Several apostrophe issues, comma splices, "a furry of smoke and fire" (typo for "fury"), a couple of other homophone errors and misspellings, the anachronistic term "coolest" dropped into the middle of the text, but otherwise not a bad story of its type.

"In the Lost Lands", George R.R. Martin: One of the kings of grimdark. I thoroughly disliked all the nasty, cruel, self-centred characters, but it was beautifully written and cleverly plotted.

"Worms Rising from the Dirt", David Farland: Not even the beginning of a story, but a part from the middle of a story, with no real conclusion.

"Snow Wolf and Evening Wolf", James Enge: This, I thought, was well done, the clash of two different kinds of werewolf in medieval Iceland.

"Knight's Errand", Jane Lindskold: This is the kind of story I enjoy more, with a world-weary knight rediscovering some of his idealism as he and a winged horse fight against the trap of a sorcerer. Lots of imaginative worldbuilding and the feel of a true old-style sword-and-sorcery yarn.

Fairy Tales: this was a dark genre in its origins, and has returned there from its sojourn in Disneyland.

"Languid in Rose", Frances Silversmith: This story about the breaking of a curse by a courageous young queen reminds me a little, in its theme if nothing else, of Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". Typo "membered" for "remembered".

"Green They Were, and Golden-Eyed", Alan Dean Foster: Foster's stories strike me as the fictional equivalent of a "For Dummies" book, successful because they aim so low in terms of challenge to the reader. This is a somewhat cutesy Christmas story about Santa being helped by rainforest frogs, and contains a few minor errors and a shaky and inconsistent attempt to sound Australian, as well as a dangling participle and a couple of misused words ("needful" for "needy" and "propitiate" for "propitious").

"Golden", Todd McCaffrey: I read the first of the books that Todd McCaffrey wrote in his famous mother's Pern series, and was amused, in an appalled kind of way, to see him repeatedly refer to burning coals in a "grazier" (which must have been painful for the cattle farmer concerned). Accordingly, I was expecting homophone errors, and I got them, most notably "horde" (a group of dangerous beings) when he means "hoard" (a collection of valuable objects). Since this is a story about (non-Pern) dragons, the word comes up a lot, and it's consistently wrong. There are also a number of sentences in which some key word has been missed out, and "quilting" when he means "quirking". The story itself is... OK, but not anything special. It's clear that it wasn't because of his writing talent that he got published.

"Mountain Spirit", Piers Anthony: I used to read a lot of Piers Anthony, but it's not something you can sustain as an adult, really, certainly not as a feminist adult. This story is a particularly egregious example of gender stereotyping, written in the same sort of for-dummies style as the Foster.

"Moon Glass", Megan N. Moore: I enjoyed this story about love and its excesses and symbols.

"The George Business", Roger Zelazny: Perhaps not one of Zelazny's best works, but there's plenty of distance to travel between Zelazny's best works and "not good". This is amusing, the story of two initially fairly inept confidence tricksters who happen to be a knight and a dragon, and he knows how to spell "hoard".

The Paranormal: This appears to be the editors' term for what I would call supernatural horror, for the most part.

"Only the End of the World Again", Neil Gaiman: Even more than Zelazny, for my money Gaiman is unable to write a bad story, and even when (as here) there are deeply disturbing elements to it, I somehow end up enjoying it. Even though it's Lovecraft fanfic, which I usually abominate. What is the man's secret?

"Lenora of the Low", Marina J. Lostetter: Dark and gruesome, and with a couple of issues ("accompaniment" for "companion", and "broach" for "brooch"), but, to me, a successful story of a woman's revenge taken for her sister's sake.

"Trufan Fever", Katherine Kerr: I enjoy Kerr's writing, and this is no exception, a shifter story that could as easily have been in the Urban Fantasy section of the book, where its tone would have fitted better. A few fumbled sentences don't detract too much.

"Undying Love", Jackie Kessler: A nasty, tragic story with a demon who seems too nice by half, but helpless to prevent a long series of horrible events.

Urban Fantasy:

"Dancing with the Mouse King", Carrie Vaughn: I usually enjoy Vaughn's work more than this. Not that it's bad, I just didn't follow why the protagonist suddenly switched sides near the end. It's beautifully told, and the theme is nicely sustained, though.

"Showlogo", Nnedi Okorafor: I don't know if the lack of a clear beginning-middle-end structure is an imitation of African storytelling or just being a trendy literary fantasy writer, but in either case I didn't enjoy it all that much. The content of the piece I enjoyed more (apart from some minor copy editing errors); the title character is interesting, but ultimately needs a plot he isn't given.

"The Bluest Hour", Jaye Wells: The homophone errors discrete/discreet and Channel/Chanel and the occasional slips into past out of present tense, plus occasional missing words and the double use of the same simile ("pain like an aneurism") left me feeling that this needed more editorial attention than it received. The story itself was one of those alienated-loser-finds-a-kind-of-redemption tales that leave me fairly cold.

"Pandal Food", Samit Basu: It's OK to have a twist, but it's not fair to deliberately mislead the audience away from the twist. Also, rather a nasty ending. The odd copy edit wouldn't have gone amiss.

"Loincloth", Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta: This is an odd one in terms of time period. The technology says it's present-day, but the kind of movie being made is pretty much a thing of the 1950s or earlier. As, indeed, are the gender politics.

"Man of Water", Kyle Aisteach: The mythical beast here appears to be the semi-honest former Congressman. All joking apart, though, it's a good story, with tension and action and a resolution at the end.

Weird Fantasy:

"Bones of a Righteous Man", Michael Ezell: Very clearly inspired by King's Dark Tower. A couple of times, the tense is off (should be past perfect rather than simple past), but overall, a successful story, with some redemption in among the tragedy.

"Time's Mistress", Steven Savile: The only story I didn't read all the way through. Tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, comma splice, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, sentence fragment, tell, tell, tell, missing commas, tell, tell, tell, sentence fragment, tell, tell, tell, and then I skipped to the end, bored and not caring what happened (from my glance at the ending, nothing much).

"Little Pig, Berry Brown and the Hard Moon", Jay Lake: Jay Lake, like Roger Zelazny, died of colon cancer, so his inclusion here makes sense. I wasn't sure I liked this story at first. It has the feel of a Native American tale, very formal, but by the end it had become a powerful story about death and passing on the baton to the next generation and giving up childhood, all the more poignant given his own family's situation.

"The Grenade Garden", Michael Moorcock: I've never got into Michael Moorcock's work, and this story certainly isn't the one to change my mind. It's possible that if I knew the Jerry Cornelius mythos it might make some kind of sense, but I doubt it. Full of unsignalled shifts of place and time, multiple related characters, unlikely events, and complete non sequiteurs, it seemed like random nonsense to me. The frequently missing closing quotation marks didn't help any. At least he knows what a horde is.

"Sand and Teeth", Carmen Tudor: I have to admit I didn't completely follow this one either, though it was a model of lucidity compared to the previous story. There seems to be a little subgenre of Egyptianish temple priests/priestesses, and this is an example.

"The Seas of Heaven", David Parish-Whittaker: This is one of those stories where you're not sure whether the events are actually taking place or if the narrator is mad. On balance, I tend to go for the latter. The events, and the narrator, are nasty and I didn't enjoy it greatly.

When I started this review I thought I'd enjoyed most of the stories, but that appears to have been selective memory. If you have a greater appetite for darkness than I do, and are less inclined to notice a lack of copy editing, you may well enjoy it much more.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Review: The Legion of Nothing: Rebirth

The Legion of Nothing: Rebirth
The Legion of Nothing: Rebirth by Jim Zoetewey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I encountered this story first of all on Podiobooks, and it's a testament to how engaging a story it is that I listened to the whole thing, despite what I would have to rate as the worst audiobook performance I have ever heard. (The reader's delivery wasn't just flat; what emphasis he did put in was reliably in the wrong place.)

Second time around, several years later, I read the ebook, and again, the story kept me engaged despite the fact that it needs a good editor. There are missing words, added words, missing commas, added commas, and inconsistent or incorrect apostrophes (most notably, the author doesn't seem sure whether to put one in "Heroes' League" or not). Nothing truly egregious, and I only spotted one minor homophone error, but there are quite a few instances of the same issues.

So, what was this story that kept me so engaged? It's a young superhero's first-person story of the revival of the Heroes' League (yes, the apostrophe should be there), started by his grandfather along with some others, whose grandchildren are now also teenagers and are also ready to join the new League. The narrator is Nick (hero name "the Rocket"), who has inherited his grandfather's powered armour and, apparently, his interest and skill in engineering (though not his grandmother's phasing ability, it appears). It's not clear why, in most cases, the powers and other abilities have skipped a generation (assuming that they have; only one of the fathers is a super, as far as Nick is aware, though I presume there may be others unrevealed). But it leaves the teens with limited guidance and supervision from their elders, and they have to figure out the moral dilemmas of superheroism for themselves.

Nick is often not sure what to do, and ends up doing nothing, which is more realistic, though less exciting than the usual headstrong character one often gets in these stories. There's a good deal of mundanity in his life and his description, alongside the hero issues. I think that, on the whole, this is a feature rather than a bug; it highlights the hero stuff by contrast.

The plot gradually builds, and the action scenes are well distributed and well handled. The characters are mostly distinct and well-drawn (I never could get a handle on Marcus, but he's the one Nick knows least well). Overall, an entertaining story, and if I could get some kind of reassurance that it would go past a good editor I would definitely want to read the next one.

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Review: Night Broken

Night Broken
Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a few really good urban fantasy authors who aren't just grabbing a bunch of tropes and creating the written equivalent of an action movie, and Patricia Briggs is one of them. (Others include [a:Carrie Vaughn|8988|Carrie Vaughn|], [a:C.E. Murphy|8695|C.E. Murphy|] and, of course, [a:Jim Butcher|10746|Jim Butcher|].) These books have a depth of insight into human relationships, and use that to make the action scenes matter. Because there are action scenes; but they're not constant, and when they do occur the stakes are not the weaksauce "does the character win?" or even "will the character save the world... or destroy it?" Instead, they have implications and side-implications to do with all of the great human drives: esteem and affection, security and survival, power and control. There's not just one thing hanging on the outcome of the fight, and when this is the case you can get away with fewer fights, because they mean more.

In a sense, the actual physical fights in this book in particular are almost background to a different struggle, between Mercy (the series lead and narrator) and her husband's manipulative and pathetic ex-wife. The scenes in which Christie, the ex, manipulates everyone around her and sets up conversations and situations in which Mercy has no way to come out the winner is masterful, and shows a depth of life experience and reflection on human behaviour that you don't see in many genre books. This masterfulness gained the book its fifth star from me. I've decided to start giving five stars not just to books that leave me gasping or do something new that's completely amazing, but also to books that are particularly well done.

This book is particularly well done. Although it's well along in a series, with references to a spinoff series, it could be a starting point, since enough of the backstory is refreshed that you could follow what was going on. Some of the richness comes from having followed the series and seen the characters change and grow, but nevertheless this volume could stand on its own.

I looked forward to reading it, and I wasn't disappointed.

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Review: The Marvelous Land of Oz

The Marvelous Land of Oz
The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Come for the whimsy, stay for the commentary on gender roles and expectations and the ethics of power. Or possibly vice versa.

The book is more than a century old, and of course Baum's views on these issues are not what a contemporary author would put across, but they were radical for their time. It's not an "ideas novel" in which the author shoves his ideology at you, though; it's a whimsical story for children that happens to have an overlay of social and political commentary from an unusual perspective.

As a children's story, it's at times a bit lacking in character agency and rather full of deus ex machina, but I forgave those as genre tropes and went along for the ride. I particularly liked the Woggle-Bug, who just about has to have been based on a real person (or more than one); his high opinion of his own education and his persistent punning are very recognisable as a type you will meet frequently on the Internet or in person. These days, he would probably be some sort of gamer, quite likely tabletop.

I'm reasonably sure that Baum is being ironic about Glinda "the Good"; she's actually a high-handed tyrant who happens to be beautiful and hence, carrying that signifier of goodness, gets away with it. But maybe I'm just too influenced by having seen Wicked.

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Monday, 8 December 2014

Review: Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap
Mind the Gap by Tim Richards

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This hovered, for me, in the tricky gap (ha!) between three and four stars. It's either right at the top of three stars - better than mediocre, reasonably competent, some originality, and I did enjoy it - or right at the bottom of four stars: over-padded middle, under-motivated protagonist, and at least some of the time I wished it was finished so that I could read something else, which is what finally decided me on a three-star rating.

Let's talk some more about the over-padded middle and under-motivated protagonist, which were the main reasons it didn't engage me more. There are quite a few cycles of "some things are explained that leave us with more questions, action scene, main character escapes using his power, fetches up somewhere else, dreams; shift to secondary viewpoint character, exposition, they make some decision or take some action, that character dreams". There were, for my taste, too many of those cycles.

You may have noticed in my summary that the main character, Darius, is primarily reactive, while secondary characters are more proactive, and this was another problem for me. At one point, one of the secondary characters reflects on the main character's motivations, and they're fairly weak, the kind of motivations a character often has near the start of a book rather than near the end: escape, get back home, and while he's at it rescue the girl.

Ah, the girl. Viv was, to me, the strongest character, more interesting, more proactive and more effective than the Darius was. They connect in a way that never convinced me: after one of his early teleportation episodes, Darius, disheveled, confused and presumably still with vomit breath from his reaction to his first episode, fetches up at Viv's coffee stand and talks like a crazy person. She meets him again by chance after work, and decides to take him home and sleep with him. Shortly thereafter, they're separated, but highly motivated to get back together and rescue each other, even though they basically hardly know each other (and it's already been established that this is his second casual sexual encounter in about three days). In the event, Viv rescues herself, largely, which I liked.

The last fifth or so of the book became more engaging, with thrilling events and a satisfying resolution, but there was an almost literal deus ex machina of sorts involved, and it wasn't enough to compensate for the overlong central portion.

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Friday, 5 December 2014

Review: Dreams of the Golden Age

Dreams of the Golden Age
Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the idea of superhero fiction, but all too often the execution isn't to my taste. Most superhero fiction tends to the dark and gritty and tragic, and I'm not into that. This is the other kind. The book neatly describes itself in the last chapter: "It was family drama, not superhero mythology". And yet it's more than that sentence implies, as well.

It's a while since I read the first in the series, [b:After the Golden Age|8665134|After the Golden Age (Golden Age, #1)|Carrie Vaughn||13536680]. In part, that was because I was waiting for the price to drop (I read more than 100 books a year, so $9.99 for an ebook isn't going to happen, however confident I am that the book will be good). I remember, though, that the first book focussed a lot more on relationships than on superheroics, on the consequences for the family members of the supers, particularly Celia, the non-powered daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark. She kept getting taken hostage, even though that never turned out well for the villains, and as an act of teenage rebellion once became a supervillain's minion.

Here, Celia is a middle-aged mother, bringing up teenage daughters and worrying she's doing it badly (she isn't, in the scheme of things) and that they will develop powers and put themselves in danger (one of them does), and at the same time hoping that her daughter and her daughter's friends will become the next generation of superpowered protectors of the city she loves. Because even if she hasn't inherited the powers, Celia has inherited the obsession with the city that both the heroes and villains born there seem to share.

Though Celia is a main viewpoint character, the other main viewpoint is her daughter Anna, AKA Compass Rose, who can locate anyone she knows well enough. Besides the usual mother-daughter stuff complicated by superpowers, and the usual friend stuff complicated by superpowers, and the usual teenage crush stuff complicated by superpowers, there's also a lot of reflection (mostly taking place in and around action) on what supers can do about crime that isn't street crime, and how they interface with the police and the media.

This is a realistic world, above all; a realistic world in which teenagers can shoot lasers from their hands and leap tall buildings, but in all other respects realistic. I've recently had two people ask me about my taste for superhero fiction. A friend on Google+ asked why I enjoyed superhero prose; he's an artist, and to him the visual aspect of comics is important. I replied, more or less, that prose gives an opportunity to go further into the characters' interior world and their relationships, rather than just being about the fights and the destruction, and this is very much what this book is like. There's a superhero fight, but it's a desperate, frightening thing filled with significance because of all the work that the author has put in beforehand building up the relationships and the inner lives of the characters.

The other person who asked me about my enjoyment of superhero fiction was my wife, who wanted to know why I like the TV show The Flash but don't like Scorpion because it's too over-the-top and hokey. My answer was that Scorpion is a technothriller; it tries to be set in the real world, but fails, because the technology that it tries to take completely seriously makes no sense whatsoever (and it's cheesier than the exports of Wisconsin). The Flash, on the other hand, is about relationships and conflicts in a world of what-if, where the what-if is superpowers. I accept the superpowers as part of the furniture of the world, without worrying about how physics doesn't work that way, because the show knows that physics doesn't work that way but is asking me to suspend my disbelief about it and enjoy the story.

That's also what this book is like. I quickly came to care about the characters, who are vulnerable and troubled without being whiny, brave and idealistic without being headstrong idiots, and whose conflicts are driven by their own flaws but ultimately resolved by their own virtues. It's good writing, good fiction.

So, it's a good book that just happens to have supers in it? No. The fact that these people are supers and the relatives of supers is fundamental to their situation and their identities. You couldn't remove that aspect and have a remotely similar book. The author has perfectly fused the "supers" part and the "people" part together and produced a whole greater than the sum of those parts.

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