Short works

Books : reviews

L. Neil Smith.
Forge of the Elders.
Tor. 2000

Capitalist monsters from outer space!

Just when the 21st century thought it was safe to throw Marxism on the ash heap of history once and for all, the global economy collapsed, and the Total State turned out to be the comeback kid.

Of course, collectivization only made the worldwide depression worse. But then the People’s Astronomers discovered an asteroid with valuable minerals that could rejuvenate the world economy. So three aged NASA shuttles were pulled out of mothballs and sent to the asteroid.

However, someone else was there first. And they weren't human, even if they were from a parallel Earth. The Elders were “nautiloids,” like intelligent giant squids. Worst of all, they were capitalists!

L. Neil Smith.
First Time the Charm.

L. Neil Smith.
Second to One.

L. Neil Smith.
Third Among Equals.

L. Neil Smith.
Blade of p'Na.
Phoenix Pick. 2017

When Shaalara of the Alteen Zirnaath, a sapient, medium-sized spider of the jumping variety came into Eichra Oren’s office to commission the Assessor of p’Na and his symbiote, canine detective Sam Otusam, to find the location of her fiancé, they were not expecting the ‘accidents’ that impeded their research, or the taking on even more unusual clients along the way.

For conducting an investigation on the Elders’ planet is not an easy task. The Elders—large squid-like Superbeings—had ‘Appropriated’ species from all across the omniverse, plucking sapient races from alternate Earths, where they had faced extinction, or simply fascinated their new omnipotent benefactors.

While the Elders’ had introduced the Appropriated Persons and their descendants to a world where there were no wars, and gifted them with lifetimes that averaged a thousand years—at least—it had long been determined that the peaceful beings should not have taken these species from their Earths; there was a sense of unease rising within the populace.

Eichra Oren’s primary role as an Assessor of p’Na was to assess the actions of his clients, and determine whether they had atone for them—at the edge of his sword, or otherwise—but what of the Elders’ actions? Those directly involved with the Appropriation had long since ended their lives, when the moral implications of their actions had been made clear to them. But what about the rest of the Elders?

Why were there whispers of new Appropriations? And who was the mysterious new race threatening Earth?

Fichra and Sam were determined to find out… And maybe, just maybe, find a runaway groom along the way.

L. Neil Smith.
Henry Martyn.
Tor. 1989

rating : 6 : unfinishable
review : 24 January 1999

In a future interstellar empire run by corrupt and decadent Conglomerate, a great injustice forces Arran Islay to become a space pirate.

We start off with a vile torture prologue, then move to young Arran on Skye, recuperating from a serious childhood illness. The book appears to be an exercise in style, and I got only as far as chapter three before giving up. The overly precious style made my eyes slide off the page too many times. The occasional convoluted sentence like

It struck the spotless wall beside rough-cast door timbers --- a flower garland, beginning to brown and dry, hung from a peg there, souvenir of a festivity which, in his illness, he had been unable to attend --- and fell to the polywood floor, frightening the boy's pet triskel which had been lying upon a hand-hooked oval rug.


It had been mounted in a length of grainy, unplacticized wood, carven, where broadest, with the figure of an alien animal, long extinct, which Old Henry said had once been brought to Skye by hundreds for riding, but which had not prospered upon the forage found here.

might be forgivable, but these examples are taken from the same page -- and the whole thing (so far at least) is like this. I like to read transparent prose, that transports me to the world of the book, and doesn't make me notice the text on the page. With this style, I just keep on overflowing my parser stack, and having to backtrack. So this is not for me. But if you like adjectives, and nested clauses, maybe it is for you?

L. Neil Smith.
Bretta Martyn.
Tor. 1997

My other half informs me that Bretta Marytn is better than Henry Martyn, but in the same style. So I'll be giving it a miss.

L. Neil Smith.
Phoenix Pick. 2010

In the 22nd century people have spread into the Solar System. Born and raised in a twentieth of Earth’s gravity on the asteroid Pallas, young skater Llyra Ngu is grimly determined to compete and win on mankind’s homeworld—an ambition that many say will cripple or kill her.

Her older brother Wilson is equally set on quitting his job as a surveyor’s apprentice to become an asteroid hunter, a calling fraught with the promise of fabulous riches and the danger of sudden death. He will find a full share of romance and disappointment, love and loss, and pursue the asteroid hunter’s holy grail, the legendary Diamond Rogue.

Llyra’s training will require years, and a journey that will take her to Ceres, at one tenth Earth’s gravity, where her father bosses the Ceres Terraformation Project, to the one-sixth gravity of the Moon, to Mars and one third gravity, and finally to Earth. Along the way, she will survive jealous rivals, a hostile press, terrorist attacks, and the hijacking of a spaceliner in order to achieve her goal.

In the end, Llyra and Wilson will hear the call of the stars, themselves.