Monday, 20 March 2017

Review: Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard

Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A novel with significant flaws, most notably in the form of elephantine holes in the worldbuilding, and yet enjoyable because of the characters and their struggle.

The setting (a galaxy filled with anthropomorphic/uplifted animals from Earth) is interesting, though the backstory, when it finally arrived, didn't surprise me even slightly. The psychic-powers aspects are rather old-fashioned in SF; they were big in the 80s, but no longer, and the handwavium is plentiful, obvious, and pretty clearly nonsense - plus the way in which it is ultimately used doesn't even make sense in its own terms. (view spoiler)

I also found the ultimate solution to the problems of the main character overly tidy and optimistic (though perhaps the optimism in (view spoiler) is going to come back to bite the protagonist, or someone else, in a sequel).

I listened to the audiobook, so I can't comment much on the editing, except to observe that the author writes "run the gauntlet" when he means "run the gamut". I can comment on the narration: it was mostly OK, but sometimes the narrator's voice didn't match up with the description in the text very well. A solid B performance.

There was a lot I didn't believe in the worldbuilding; not just the psychic subatomic particles, but the massive amounts of medicines and drugs being produced by a population of a million people who mostly lived low-tech lives, and mostly didn't seem to be involved in that industry. Also, the six-year-old who didn't act like a six-year-old in pretty much any way (yes, I know he was special), and who, despite an active lifestyle and an inability to feel pain, was still alive.

I also wondered for a long time about the two different kinds of phant: lox and eleph (not sure of the spelling, since I listened to the audiobook) - although I eventually figured out, and confirmed by checking Wikipedia, that they corresponded to African and Asian elephants. This was a worldbuilding detail that wasn't exploited, a difference that made no difference. We were never told how the two groups' appearance differed, though it clearly did, since everyone could tell on sight which group any given phant belonged to; and there was no hint of an answer to the obvious questions: Do lox tease eleph in the schoolyard, or vice versa? Are eleph parents upset if their daughter brings home a lox boyfriend? If not, why not? This would have given the culture a bit more depth, and made the "furry people bad and prejudiced, non-furry people good and broadminded" division a bit less obvious.

Despite all these aspects that didn't work for me, there was plenty that did. I wanted the protagonist to succeed, I liked him and his supporting cast, and I felt for them because of the ordinary caring relationships that were depicted between them. There was a good amount of suspense in the plot, too. I have no complaints about the storytelling, except inasmuch as the issues with the worldbuilding turned into plot holes for me. By keeping my disbelief forcibly suspended, I enjoyed the book, and I would read a sequel (which I believe is underway).

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