Finished Joe Haldeman's Starbound
, yesterday. This is a tricky book. I really enjoyed Marsbound
but the big problems with that one were a preposterous "villain" (even for a pseudo-semi-YA) and (no spoilers) a very logically problematic conclusion which exposed problems with the whole underpinning. Probably the best things about it were the wonderful protagonist, the great Mars setting, and the imaginatively conceived aliens. The sequel doesn't have a preposterous villain and manages to keep most of the underpinnings, well, "under". So those problems are gone or reduced. Unfortunately, we also lose the Mars setting and have a much more muted and off-center protagonist, so lose a lot of the strength. Still, I was finding it even better than the first installment in many ways but (again, no spoilers) the conclusion made me pretty angry and I can only hope it gets "fixed" in the finale.
I don't know how much I can say about it because, while much wouldn't be spoilery for it
, it would be spoilery for Marsbound
. But I can keep to general and technical things. We recently had a thread about long time jumps between volumes in a series
and this does seem to jump about a decade. Where she was our great narrator, full of attitude and humor, in the first volume, she's only one of three narrators in a difficult multi-first-person technique and, perhaps because she's older and/or off-center, she seems to have lost much of her sense of humor and become less interesting. And, technically, I find either I have a tin ear or Haldeman's technique didn't come off. One of the narrators is Carmen, a c.30 year old woman who came to Mars as a c.20 year old and literally fell into becoming a xenobiologist. Another is a c.50 year old Israeli spy who has suffered and done horrible things. Another is an alien. While I could almost always tell which parts were the alien's (and he takes Carmen's place for most of the delight in narration in this one because he's so askew), I had a hard time telling the two very different humans apart until I got some explicit reference that made it obvious which was narrating. Namir does have a stiffer syntax and a slightly different sense of humor from what Carmen had but, as I say, she's been muted to where her sense of humor isn't as definite as it was. I dunno - it just seems like (unless the point is that "we're not so different after all" - and it doesn't seem to be) one ought to be able to tell an older male spook of horrific experience from a younger female xenobiologist of fascinating experience. And then, as I say, there's the ending which sort of messed up the second volume for me and made me worried about the nature of the third.
And, thematically - time, memory, power, etc. - I had a hard time getting the parts to add up.
If you've read and liked Marsbound
and want to follow along, I can recommend Starbound
but that's about it at this point. This series is going to depend on Earthbound
, which I will be getting, but I wouldn't recommend getting into this series if you haven't yet and certainly can't recommend this as any kind of stand-alone or entry point. Have to see how it turns out. Definitely some excellent parts in the two volumes so far, but I don't know what it'll add up to. (The third's actually out, but not in paperback yet.)
One spoiler comment: For a movie analogy, while nothing directly like it, this has the position and effect of The Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars trilogy - it's much darker and the "good guys" take it on the chin. The problem is that, at this point, the upside isn't as good and the end is much worse than Han being carbon frozen
(Ironic to be this wishy-washy on a book when Haldeman's just been deservedly inducted into the SF Hall of Fame