Review: Dragon and Soldier

Written by Timothy Zahn

The K’da and Shontine races face annihilation. They are fleeing their native home to escape war with the Valaghua, but their enemies have reached the place of refuge ahead of them. With their allies in the Orion Arm, the Valaghua wait for the refugees to destroy them.

Jack and Draycos, meanwhile, are racing to save them. Their efforts now focus on tracking down who is colluding with the Valaghua. Jack joins a mercenary group in order to  steal information from them. He intends, of course, to bail out before the firing starts, and of course he fails.

Dragon and Soldier has more action than Dragon and Thief. The plot is clever in this book, too, but in a slightly different way: The twists are smaller but more numerous. Zahn neglects to pick up some of the threads he left hanging in the last book; before this one is over he adds a few more. But as this is a series, and as Timothy Zahn is a good writer, I expect to see it all come together eventually.

One of the things that struck me in this book was the use of Uncle Virge. As readers of the first book know, Uncle Virge is the ship’s computer designed to mimic the voice and personality of Jack’s recently dead Uncle Virgil. He is featured much more prominently in the second book. The setup reminds me of Chef Gusteau in Ratatouille. It’s necessary to the plot of the Dragonback series that Uncle Virgil be dead, just as it’s necessary to the plot of Ratatouille that Gusteau be dead. Gusteau survives into the film as a figment of Remmy’s imagination, and Uncle Virgil survives as a computerized personality. In both cases the characters are kept in the story without really being in it. Uncle Virge tugs Jack to his old life while Draycos tugs him to a new one, and he provides a real, if limited, third partner. But Jack is the captain of his ship, literally and metaphorically.

Dragon and Soldier doesn’t advance the overarching story very much. Zahn pulls at the mystery of the Valaghua and their secret allies, but he unravels none of it. All the same he tells an entertaining story. If it comes off as something of a standalone, it’s a very good one.

Dahveed Series

According to Terri Fivash’s website, Dahveed: Yahweh’s Fugitive has been sent to the publisher and is due to be published next spring. Cut scenes from Yahweh’s Warrior can be found here.

It’s interesting to see what was cut. These scenes either (1) portray information given elsewhere; (2) are so short as to be snippets more than scenes; or (3) tell certain elements of the story outright, thus giving more information but also reducing drama. Overall, I think Yahweh’s Warrior was stronger with these cut.

Review: How Do I Love Thee?

Written by Nancy Moser

How Do I Love Thee? is another biographical novel by Nancy Moser. This novel’s subject is the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She lived in England in the early part of the 19th century, a famous poet of her day and once a contender to become Poet Laureate (it went to Alfred Tennyson instead). But her personal life did not mirror the success of her poetry.

How Do I Love Thee? is, of course, the name of Elizabeth Browning’s most famous, most loved poem. Ironically, it was not written with the intent of ever publishing it. The poem was part of a series she wrote as a private diary of her love affair with Robert Browning. Upon their marriage they fled the country – an extraordinary necessity, with peculiar reason.

Elizabeth Barrett began corresponding with Robert Browning when she was thirty-eight. To that point, her life had been ruled by two things: her bad health and her father. She took daily doses of opium and at one point of her life was an invalid, hardly able to move across her room. For this – and for other reasons – she lived as a recluse, hardly leaving her house and even her room.

Her father was a formidable man. He drew his family close, binding them together and ruling them with a strong hand. Of his twelve children, eleven reached adulthood – three daughters and eight sons. He forbade all of them from marrying. During his lifetime only three of his children married or left home; he disinherited them.

This book is a romance, but even more it is a story of overcoming. It is a story of breaking free – of bonds within and bonds without, breaking free of fear and the past and the tight hold of possessive love. Elizabeth Browning was led by love not only into marriage but into the world. Reading the book, it seemed like a kind of prison break. How Do I Love Thee? is a historical romance that holds appeal within its genre and beyond it.

Review: Shivering World

Written by Kathy Tyers

Shivering World is a novel that revolves around an idea called terraforming, the notion that uninhabitable planets can be molded by human beings to be livable. Judging by our own solar system, supporting life is not the norm for planets. The dream of shaping hostile worlds for human habitation is a kind of intelligent design of nature.

Goddard is a shivering world, slowly being warmed and nurtured to sustain life. Its colonists are the mysterious Lwuites, the followers of a scientist rumored to have conducted genetic experiments. Suspected of illegal gene tampering and cultish beliefs, they hide behind secrecy and now seek to separate themselves from society entirely.

Their greatest enemy is Novia Brady-Phillips, the commissioner of the Eugenics Board. She is on the lookout for proof that they are guilty of gene alteration, even if only to heal genetic defects. If she finds it, she will impose the law’s penalty – full-body radiation, invariably followed by slow death.

And now her daughter Graysha is coming to Goddard. Ostensibly for the triple-pay of a scientist terraforming on  Goddard, in reality for the hope of genetic healing. Even if she can’t be cured of her slowly terminal disease, she hopes to be made able to have children without passing on her defect.

Shivering World features a staple – the slightly stale staple – of a powerful megacorporation. But most of the science fiction elements are deeply thought out and realistically presented. Terraforming, genetic experiments, society’s new religion and new discrimination, space habitats – all futuristic, but it seemed like a real future. The universe of Shivering World is very detailed; the one flaw is that it is sometimes too detailed. At times it overburdened the story.

The plot was interesting, with a good dose of suspense, though it wasn’t until near the ending that Kathy Tyers raised it to its full potential. There were a large number of threads weaving together to make this story. I enjoyed it, though some may not. One of the most interesting scenes of the book came when two villains of a very different cast fell in together for an unlikely objective. Each accurately characterized and openly condemned the other’s evil, no small amount of hostility between them.

This novel is explicitly Christian. It even contains the Gospel message. But disappointingly, the author uses language three times. Overall I enjoyed Shivering World. If you’re after a thriller, this isn’t it. But if you’re interested in the future projected along current trends, in bioethics or terraforming, pick up this book.