A trio of books this time around bring us toward the close of the reading year.
Worlds That Weren’t, Edited by Harry Turtledove
A Princess of Roumania, by Paul Park
Worldwired, by Elizabeth “Sarah” Bear.
Worlds That Weren’t, Edited by Harry Turtledove
A quartet of four alternative history novellas by four authors, it is difficult to review WTW as a single work, its really four short works. And so that is the approach I will take to it.
Harry Turtledove’s entry, The Daimon takes place during the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century B.C. In his AH, Socrates accompanies the disastrous Athenian expedition to Sicily, and by doing so, changes history thereafter.
It’s an obscure part of history for casual readers (who might have heard of Socrates, at least) but the AH is well done. It has the typical Turtledovian twists of taking things from real history, or referencing them in a clever way (mentioning that the Macedonians, the birth people of Alexander the Great, would not amount to anything in the eyes of one of the characters, for instance)
Still, I found it personally interesting and well done, since Ancient Greece IS a strong interest of mine.
S.M. Stirling’s Shikari in Galveston is set in the same world as his The Peshawar Lancers. In that world, a series of comet/asteroid strikes in the 19th century derail history and the world in general. The British Empire survives by emigrating to warmer India en masse, many northern countries collapse. Two centuries later, technology is still steampunkish and the world feels a lot like a H Rider Haggard novel, except in places you’d not expect–like the Southern United States, in this story
Anyway, the story is a classic sort of adventure story that Kipling might have written. While it does help to know more about the world, and reading Peshawar Lancers makes it clearer WHY the main character can’t win the girl despite all indications through the story he would, its a romp.
Mary Gentle’s The Logistics of Carthage is set in the same world as her Ash novels (the fourth of which is in my rule of seven and will be reviewed here when I do get to it). Set a couple of decades before the events of the book, the story involves a dispute over the burial of one of the mercenaries who have captured a monastery outside Carthage. Pigs, black humor, slight references to the nature of history and Gentle’s weird palimpest world, and even baby Ash herself make it an interesting story. I don’t think that people who haven’t read any of the Ash books will appreciate it, though.
The book concludes with the oddest of the four stories, Walter Jon Williams “The Last Ride of German Freddie”. The premise is out of one of those stupid and insipid series of “Alternate xxxx” books put out in the 80’s and 90’s, whose quality slipped as they got odder and odder.
The premise is that, for health reasons, Frederich Nietzche decided to go to the American West and make his fortune as a gambler (as a teetotaler, he’d be a menace against drunken opponents who’d he could play circles around). Of course, he’d also, given his nature, deal in death as well.
The story is funny, and it revolves around his intervention in the events of the shootout in Tombstone, at the OK Corral. I’ve seen worse takes on it (The Star Trek episode for instance). And the story tries to unpaint Nietzche with the brush of anti-semitism that is mainly due to his sister’s editing of his works after his death. The story even makes mention of this possibility and Freddie’s unhappiness at the prospect.
It’s a curious mix of genre, story and characters but I liked this, too.
So, overall, I would recommend the book, but your mileage may vary, depending on your reaction to the stories above.
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park
Similar and in some senses a cross between Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels and Charles Stross’ Family Trade with some of the Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, this is a quasi-YA novel involving a girl named Miranda, whose life in New England turns out to be a dream, or a fantasy in a book world. In reality, she is apparently an heir to the throne of a powerful yet beleagured country called Roumania.
Miranda has enemies in this real world, ranging from the German who holds her mother, to the aunt who has plans for Miranda if she can only get Miranda delivered to her grasp. The interplay of plots and plans is not as convoluted as it might be, and the antagonists are neither perfectly competent, nor are they bumbling fools that Miranda eludes easily. They are human. Even an ostensible ally of Miranda has shades of grey to her.
The novel is clearly the first of a series, and while I don’t think its quite as well written as Pullman, its good enough that I will look for book two when it comes out. As for other readers, I do recommend it, but I’d suggest waiting for the paperback. There are some weaknesses in style and writing, especially in regards to the character of Andromeda, who becomes a dog when Miranda, Andromeda and their friend Peter come across to their “Real world”. The novel could have used a re-write.
Recommended with reservations.
Worldwired by Elizabeth Bear
The third and the last in the Jenny Casey novels takes place some months after the climatic events of Scardown. Problems from communication with aliens to keeping the Chinese from wrecking everything plague Jenny and her allies, and not even having Richard as a superpowered A.I is a salve for all of the problems. First Contacts, worldwide nanotech networks, a visit to the U.N., and a message from beyond the grave not only help tie all three books together, but roll forward as well.
While maybe a half notch below Scardown in terms of writing and the wow factor, Worldwired is not a disappointing end to the trilogy. I eagerly read through the novel to see the next hoops characters faced. I do think, though that the end “Book Three” is either deliberately short, or should be more properly deemed an epilogue. It might have done better being a little longer and developed, especially given the telescoping nature of time in that section.
As Deb Atwood points out in her journal, and to echo Larry Niven, though, the playground of the imagination of Jenny Casey’s universe is still up and running by the end of Worldwired. You can, easily, imagine the characters moving through the complex, beautiful, chaotic, and wondrous universe Bear has created in the three novels after the events of the book are done. And I look forward to more of her books, not because she is a friend of mine, but because I enjoy her writing. I want to see what Bear can do in other settings and other characters. Still, one day, I will re-read these books, perhaps after she wins a Hugo or two, to see where my friend’s novel career began.
Recommended, but DO read all three novels in order.