Last week, I went to sleep and woke up barely able to move. I’d somehow managed to pull a muscle in my shoulder while sleeping, and therefore had to spend a couple of days in bed. This situation hasn’t been conductive to writing, but I managed to finish a few books. Let me tell you what I thought of them.
Tech Mage – Chris Fox
I became interested in this self-published book after stumbling across the author’s Youtube videos on how to write and publish. Check out Chris Fox’s channel here.
Tech Mage interested me because it promised magic and fantasy elements in a science-fiction setting, and it delivered on that promise. This story features spaceships fighting dragons and everything about the setting is really cool. Mages cast spells with guns, and a lot of thought has gone into this magic system.
Despite the amazing worldbuilding and magic system, there were a few issues with this book that bothered me. First of all, I’ve read quite a bit of military science fiction over the years, and despite being set on a warship with soldiers as the main characters, Tech Mage didn’t have the right feel. The fantasy elements justify some of the differences, but at times there is a very ‘military cliché’ feel to the way the characters interact. I feel I would have enjoyed the characters more if they were a small group of mercenaries rather than part of a professional army.
There was also a character who I didn’t like. Major Voria, the commander of the spaceship we follow, has an unearned reputation. I’m not sure if the dreaded Mary Sue label applies, but I don’t think the admiration she gets is justified. She is portrayed as a commander who cares about her soldiers, but until the events in this book she had knowingly allowed one of her commanders to cause division amongst her soldiers and unapologetically waste the lives of the non-magical marines. A good leader would have put a stop to that before ship culture included marines beating up tech mages on sight. When she finally does fix the problem, no-one calls her out on allowing it to happen in the first place.
At the end of the day, I had some issues with this story. However, I have recently read two books that I felt were better written than this, yet come away deciding that I don’t want to continue with those stories. Despite my issues with Tech Mage, I am very interested in continuing this series. The worldbuilding and lore have pulled me into this world, and I want to learn more.
The Far Horizon – Patty Jansen
Another self-published book, The Far Horizon ended up being much shorter than I expected. The Far Horizon is aimed at a younger audience, but I still found it enjoyable. This story is about 10-year-old Cory, whose father is marrying an alien (called Extra-terrestrial Humanoids) and moving the family to a space station where he will be meeting with alien diplomats. Cory must adjust to a new environment, re-evaluate his beliefs about his new step-mother and aliens in general, and stop some terrorists from killing all the alien diplomats.
There is a nice anti-racism message, and the story does interesting things with the ‘adults-are-useless’ trope, but in the end, there is nothing extra special about this story. At least, not that I got from it. I would recommend it for young adults or older children.
Friday – Robert A. Heinlein.
Score: Did Not Finish
I’m not quite sure how I feel about Heinlein right now. He was ahead of his time when it came to free love and women’s rights. But at the same time, I’ve often found something off about his female characters. The titular character of Friday was a character I really wanted to love. I think I do like her a lot. We’re introduced to her as she kills a dude and expertly disposes of the body. She is an artificial person (think Bladerunner) with enhanced strength, reflexes and hearing. She works as a courier for a spy-like organisation and has received enough training to be a complete badarse. She walks a fine line between being an unstoppable force and feeling insecure and vulnerable about her status as not human. She also wears skin tight catsuits and is happy to have sex with nearly everyone she comes across.
I do like Friday. And if this was a non-stop action story about her taking down bad guys whilst dealing with her marginalised place in society, this would have been a really good book. But I got halfway through it and just couldn’t maintain my interest. Friday isn’t in the thick of the action in this story. Instead she is trying to get back to her boss along with a nice man who seems to have become the most competent member of a duo, even though he is a professor and Friday is a trained secret-agent type. Heinlein goes into excruciating detail about every step of their journey, and it just drags on and fails to grab me. Not only that, but some of the things that happen just don’t seem plausible. Friday and Georges happen to come across the leader of the country they are in just as he is about to be assassinated, and that same day Friday wins the lotto. This book had a really gripping first chapter, but by the halfway point I had to admit that it feels like a chore getting through this story. I’m going to set the book aside for now. Maybe after I have satisfied my thirst for the new Stephen King and Ann Leckie books, I’ll be more patient with Friday.
Whilst I put this book down at the halfway point, I almost put it down much earlier than that. Near the start of this story, Friday gets gang-raped. It is mentioned that her conditioning as an artificial person and her training makes her better able to deal with such situations, but I don’t think either of those factors justify how blasé Friday was about the whole matter. I don’t think it was Heinlein’s intention, but the horrors of this situation are severely downplayed, and I was very uncomfortable reading such a casual depiction of rape. For this alone, I would not have scored this book anything higher than a six even if the plot had turned out awesome.
I’ve been slogging through Friday for a few days, and now that I’ve put it down I’m unsure where to go next. I have a lot of really good books waiting for me. Even better though, my shoulder is all better. So, now life can get back to normal. Be careful how you sleep people.
2 thoughts on “The Sore Shoulder Read-a-Thon”
Re: Friday, interesting to read your thoughts. I’ve come to have a hard time with late Heinlein but Friday was the closest he came to early/middle Heinlein for me. I do know what you mean about the episodic nature of the middle (or bulk) but for me the only real problem was the end which I won’t spoil but will just say that, while it’s prepped and explicable, seems counter to much of the book and a real letdown. As far as the rape scene and her being happy to have sex with lots of folks, I think you’re right about her being a trained AP having a lot to do with it but I think, paradoxically, it’s also a very feminist statement (using that term in the sense of most of its 20th century history rather than lately). I don’t think he was trying to downplay the horror of the situation so much as to play up Friday’s strength. Heinlein was probably trying to counter the Victorian sensibility (and that of the past few years) which suppressed women sexually and considered rape a “fate worse than death” that had to automatically destroy a woman. I think Heinlein was just portraying a character who was tough and not sexually repressed or able to be destroyed in that way. I’ll grant she IS really blase but, as I say, I take it as a depiction of her strength rather than of taking the situation lightly. In sum, though, I get where you’re coming from and, if you didn’t like the middle, you’re unlikely to like the rest. Read some early Heinlein stories instead! 🙂
Thanks for the comment. Fortunately, this isn’t my first encounter with Heinlein, or even with late Heinlein. I quite enjoyed reading Job: A Comedy of Justice when I was younger, and have been thinking of re-reading it soon to see if it still stacks up. Though I also have Red Planet sitting unread on my shelf, and being an older Heinlein tale, I would probably enjoy that more. Keeping what you said about the ending in mind, I probably won’t give Friday another go, but I’ll keep it around just in case. After all, I did like Friday as a character, and I usually like Heinlein’s writing style.
It’s interesting to read your thoughts on the rape scene. I hadn’t really thought about it as being in contrast to the view that rape was a fate worse than death, and it does make me appreciate Friday more. But I still feel quite uncomfortable about the scene and the way it was talked about later. I never thought there was any attempt by Heinlein to trivialise rape. If I had, I would have stopped reading then and there. But I feel it was trivialised just the same. That was a fine line Heinlein walked there, and I think everyone is going to have different feelings about how he handled it.