The Deed of Paksenarrion

A familiar to me trilogy; this is probably my third or fourth read through.

The first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, was very strong. Moon builds a realistic feeling world; it has a technological feel similar to the middle ages/stock fantasy, but the political structures vary. There’s also magic… but this is a grittier world, with magic mostly on the sidelines.

What’s particularly good about this–or, at least what is presented convincingly to me–is the soldier’s eye view, beginning with basic training. It has a fantasy gloss, but concentrates on the details–the drill, tedium, and lifestyle. The book is tough on its characters; they’re mercenaries, fighting in war, and anyone can die. That emphasizes the low-key feel of the world, even when it becomes more driven and magical in the second half.

The second book, Divided Allegiance is still well written and grounded. It suffers a bit, as Paks quickly leaves a military setting and flounders a bit in her choice of companions. Brewersridge proves a great way station in the center of the book; Paks’ adjustments and changes get worked through nicely. Once she’s off to Fin Panir the book changes tone again, and again once they’re on quest. It’s a series of tricky transitions; I rooted for Paks to make it through, to adjust to each new setting… but there is a bit of repetition to the feel, since she keeps having to start from scratch in new contexts.

The end of the second book is horrible; it prompts you to immediately pick up the third book, to reassure yourself that the end isn’t as bitter as we’ve experienced. It’s hard to imagine waiting a year with that depth of disappointment… I wonder how many people abandoned the series after book 2, unwilling to pick the series up a year later when book 3 came out due to a hazy memory of distaste left by the ending.

Once you’re past that, the third book, Oath of Gold gets things back on track pretty quickly. Pak’s unusual path, including her crippling by fear and pain and its unusual healing, strongly sets her on a “not your typical Paladin” path. Her investigation, fumbling, dedication and final sacrifice (and its odd side effects) all combine to make her a very non-standard in SF hero. Very well done, as a trilogy–I really enjoy the series.

The Stars Change and The Walking Dead [Compendiums 1 and 2]

The Stars Change was an interesting book in a quickly sketched universe. The setting is an interesting one; a university planet several generations after its founding. The elapsed time since the founding allows the local culture and religion to drift from their real world roots, but keeps it close enough in time that the source shines through.

I asked for the book after reading the author’s Big Idea piece; rereading that article, the book did a good job on delivering on her promise. The world makes sense, and I really liked the cultural underpinnings that tied the characters together. I’d forgotten that her goal was to write something light and sexy… the sex, especially, continued into the final product. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it’s more central to the story than most SF that I’ve read.

The heroes of the tale feel mundane in a good way… the aliens are alien, but everyone is just an average person, you know? It’s a tale of communities and individuals doing what they can, despite serious constraints, rather than unfettered heroes with tremendous resources solving everything.

I’d heard a lot about The Walking Dead; we sell a few board games with the theme and I have friends who rave about the TV adaptation in in my facebook feed. Jennifer picked it up a few years ago, but I put it off. It’s a graphic novel, which I’m slow to promote to the bedside reading stack… mostly because it’s slower for me than streaming text. And I never quite pick a level of picture-reading that makes me happy; I’m tempted to slide over the pictures at text reading speed, but sometimes there are interesting subtle things going on in the panel. In the end, I try to hit a sweet spot, where I view the pictures in enough detail to appreciate them, but read through quickly enough that the plot keeps a good flow.

I like the story, particularly the emphasis on the people who just don’t cope well. It makes the story feel more grounded–and lets less ridiculous levels of bravery shine, instead of getting buried in endless one-upsmanship (in body count or whatever).

Rick is a good character to carry us through; his sense of responsibility makes him an attractive point of view for the world. As the episodes continue, he faces challenges that he cannot meet and his personality proves similarly warped by the emerging world. Several times he pays a terrible price; his resilience is amazing but believable.

The story isn’t over, but Volume 3 doesn’t appear the be out yet. Compendium 1 has a great break point to end it; Compendium 2 is a bit more stream of story in its ending. I look forward to continuing the tale when the next chapter is collected. (I like his belated realization, near the end of the second book, about what goals a larger community can take on.)

The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. LeGuin

This is a pair of collections of her short stories; I think they’re all reprints, but some (particularly in Volume 1) were new to me.

I started with Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands, which has mostly her science fiction short stories. The Rule of Names was new to me (a fun short story set in the East Reach of Earthsea), as were the following four stories of the collection. It’s hard not to be a fanboy, but all of the stories are crisp and beautifully written. The first stories are familiar, The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas is often reprinted, with great reason. Semley’s Necklace was interesting; I’d read it before, but I was more willing to read it from Semley’s perspective, which improved it for me this time around.

I think I’ve read First Contact with the Gorgonids before, but enjoyed her wry pokes at Jerry this time. So many others were familiar, but it was good to read them again and have them in one place.

Volume One: Where on Earth got off to a strong start. I really appreciated collecting the Orsinian tales; the second Orsinian story is much stronger for following the first with the same characters. Many of the remaining stories were familiar, and most were quite strong. Ether, OR was another story that was new to me–and quite enjoyable, with interesting characters dealing with a very unusual but understated problem.

There’s a really interesting piece at the end, Half Past Four. I might have gone crazy trying to line everyone up, if I hadn’t vaguely remembered her warning in the introduction explaining how the story came about.

This was a pair of books I’ll reread again; it’ll probably take a few reads to get many of these onto my favorites list… but I suspect some will clear that high bar.