Star Wars and the Power of Costume

Star Wars and the Power of Costume

We take a break from our regularly scheduled book reviews to bring you a look at science fiction from a slightly different angle. (And by “regularly scheduled,” I mean “whenever I’m not playing gigs, coaching soccer, cleaning the house, or doing the other zillion things that have eaten away my life in the last year.” Most recently I lost two nights of blogging time because my kids brought home seven (!) goldfish they had rescued at the fair who were suddenly in dire need of a home. We now have a lovely new aquarium, the pieces of which I begged, borrowed, and bought in a state of high emergency. I digress.) Last Sunday I went to Seattle’s Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and caught one of the last showings of the Smithsonian produced exhibition, Star Wars and the Power of Costume. Consequently, today I can talk about assorted pieces of cloth rather than white wood pulp.

A teeny bit of background. Last Christmas, Mrs. Pep got me a membership to EMP. For those not in the know, EMP (Experience Music Project) is Paul Allen’s two-pronged museum of rock music and science fiction. Unfortunately for the former half, I don’t go for rock music all that much and most of the hands-on activities are music tasks that I do quite regularly. It’s entertaining however, and a good chance for the kids to get a sense of what I’m doing all those nights I’m not at home. I mostly go for the science fiction, and that half consistently delivers. I primarily enjoy books, and it’s hard to make a museum of books, but there’s always something fascinating to see anyway. Lots of movie props and costumes, but also a fair bit of interactive stuff and deeper explanations of what makes the whole of speculative fiction tick. There is also a room in the museum dedicated to the Seattle Seahawks that contains the actual Superbowl trophy. Woooo!

Until October 4th of this year, EMP is hosting the first leg of the Star Wars exhibition tour. We’d put off going during previous visits, but time is running out. It was Sunday or nothing. The display at EMP is split into two levels. The bottom floor is heavy on Republic fashion, be it senators’ robes or Amidala’s dresses. My wife and daughter gravitated to this part of the show, especially the wedding scene from Attack of the Clones. My son appreciated the Emperor’s robes, showcased next to Mace Windu and another Jedi with whom I was not familiar. (Somewhat alarming when my 7 year old can name more Jedi than I can.) Explanations of the Terran origins of things were also fascinating – African hats paired with Victorian skirts, World War II military styles for the Empire, a mix of European monks and samurai armor for the Jedi, and more. Naturally C-3PO and R2-D2 were the highlights here for me.

The good stuff is on the second floor. I am naturally more attached to the original trilogy, if for no other reason than my age, so walking up the stairs and bumping head-on into Ben Kenobi’s costume sent the first shivers down my spine. Things got better as we walked towards Leia’s bounty hunter get-up from Return of the Jedi, then down the line past Han Solo, a Chewbacca suit, and the Imperial officers. I will confess that the gold bikini didn’t thrill me as much as others, but I never really had those thoughts about Leia when growing up.

Let’s take a break to talk about Star Wars. I realize that George Lucas is basically a one-hit wonder who can’t stop crapping all over his own legacy, but I’m not sure anything had a bigger effect on young me than the original trilogy. Star Wars and I came into the world in the same year, my parents allegedly took me with them to see Empire Strikes Back at a drive in, and I have vague memories of seeing Return of the Jedi in a theater. While I’m not sure when I consciously watched each movie for the first time, I do know that by junior high school, I watched one or another of them almost every weekend. After long nights of junk food and roleplaying games, we would pop in a frazzled VHS tape and fall asleep as we mumbled our favorite lines. The original Star Wars RPG was second only to Mech Warrior in playing time, usually with a horde of Jedi wannabes and one person forced to be a smuggler, since we had to have a spaceship somehow. I even played some of the X-Wing computer games, though we as a group were always partial to Wing Commander.

I admit that my Star Wars immersion attenuated as I grew older. I was initially in the apologist camp for the new movies, but they wore on me. Timothy Zahn’s first set of books was amazing, but after awhile, I stopped reading in the expanded universe as much. I always meant to introduce my kids to the magic, but my daughter was never interested and somehow time for movie watching has all but disappeared. Instead, without any urging on my part, my son has found The Clone Wars and is now as big a fan as I ever was, even though we can’t watch the originals until I pick up a working VHS player from the thrift store. (Or I cave in and get the Lucas reworks on DVD. Boo.) Even as we speak, he is pushing through a Clone Wars chapter book above his grade level, because that’s what I can get him to read after school. Somehow, the obsession has started again. Life, as they say, finds a way.

So for my son, things weren’t quite what he hoped. He wanted clone armor, Captain Rex, Commander Cody, etc., whoever they are. Unfortunately, all of his favorites are, well, animated. Me? I was staring open-mouthed at Luke’s X-Wing suit and the TIE Fighter pilot. In the end, we all gazed reverently at the slightly faded Storm Trooper armor, then my wife snapped a photo of me, the kids, and Darth Vader, our hands identical in the force choke position. An iconic moment indeed for this rapidly aging nerd.

We still don’t have a VHS player, so instead settled on Attack of the Clones to close out the evening. Even the women watched until we shut it off partway for bedtime, feeling a bit of the magic from the exhibition I suppose.

I don’t know where else the costumes will go after they leave Seattle, or how many readers will have the chance to see them. For those that do, my recommendation is to take advantage. There remains some undeniable power in the display. I will never use the Force, to my great dismay, and never see Coruscant or Endor, so standing face to face with a Storm Trooper will have to be enough. It almost is.

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In Conquest Born

In Conquest Born
C.S. Friedman

Perusing the archives here in The Attic, I discovered a shortage in my book diet: a potentially serious deficiency of the 80s. Fortunately for me, C.S. Friedman came through with a book that satisfies several urgent needs: it’s from 1986, it’s by a woman (yay equality), and it comes from the Two Dudes personal library. I have to dig into that once in awhile, or Mrs. Pep casts increasingly baleful glares at the shelves and asks just what on earth I propose to do with all of the books.

In Conquest Born has the feel of a world long in the making, and a story worked out at great length. This being Friedman’s first novel, I imagine she mulled it over for years; this is somewhat backed up by comments I have seen in interviews. While the book is character-centered, it is space opera at heart. This is the rise and fall of galactic empires, war spread over centuries, men and women larger than life, and a battle not just between governments, but between two diametrically opposed philosophies. It’s not bug-eyed alien invader space opera, or sweaty palms while gazing at the armada space opera; it feels like the New Space Opera coming out of the UK recently, though I doubt Friedman had any connection to that at the time. Very much ahead of its time and holds up well thirty years on.

The book is a series of vignettes, almost a short story collection. The structure might be a turn off for those look for chronologically focused arcs, but allows Friedman to catch the grand sweep of history. Because we are looking mostly at the two most influential actors in their respective societies, the only other option would be to write an interminable series; compressing the changes that wash over the empires into a comfortable, bite-sized narrative would rob the book of its grandeur. On the other hand, it does make the book easier to put down. The individual chapters can be compelling, but the long breaks between can dull the momentum at times.

No apologies from the author though. Conquest is a demanding book in many ways, not just the dedication required to plow through the long decades it covers. It is also a dark, almost brooding novel. No clear cut heroes, no shining knights, or cities on the hill. The Azean empire is nominally the good side, but it is uncompromising and weird in all sorts of ways that make contemporary readers uncomfortable. The Braxin empire is much worse however, as though Friedman tried to cook up the most vile culture imaginable for a feminist. Misogyny and cruelty are the very foundation of the empire, about which the reader sees a disturbing amount. (Never gratuitous or gleeful, I should add. Just present.) Anzha and Zatar are the respective representatives of their homelands, though their places within are fraught and convoluted. This is a morally twisted universe and is, at best, a very prickly place to spend five hundred pages.

Of course the best parts for me are the political systems and their interactions. The Braxin empire in particular is train derailment level compelling; so hard to look away from the awful carnage. Beneath the goth horror exterior is a complete societal edifice that has convincingly survived for a few centuries, but is equally convincingly on the brink. Zatar’s quest to preserve the empire through reformation is easily the best part of the book for me. Anzha is a racial outsider in Azean, but forces her way to prominence by sheer, bloody-minded, stubborn brilliance. She is no more likable than Zatar, and while the Azeans are at least not godawful, I wouldn’t want to live there either. They are the only group unified enough to oppose the Braxins though, so we must grudgingly cheer for them and their whacked out eugenics. Miles Vorkosigan fans might see the seeds of his universe, if Lois Bujold were to repaint all of her novels in gray, black, gray, and the colors of torment.

That said, Anzha and Zatar, who despise each other utterly, churn more electricity into their relationship than seventeen romance novel couples combined. “Planet destroying obsession” sounds overly dramatic, but it’s pretty much dead on. “Dear, I hate you so much that I crisped this Earthlike world for your birthday.” “Thank you for the gesture. Here’s a plague.”

It all makes me wonder who the target audience was. Or, for that matter, what the editor thought when he/she picked this up for publication. (I suppose the target audience is me, but how many of me are there?) If forced to sum it up in two words, I have settled on “grimly magnetic.” After about three hundred pages, I couldn’t stop reading. The buildup is very slow, with an extensive foundation that must be laid, but Conquest provides a steady buzz once Anzha and Zatar key in on each other. Yes, it is ethically compromised from start to finish. Yes, the Braxins are disgusting in every way, and yes, there are few if any white hats. On the other hand, the evolution on parallel personal and societal levels is several steps beyond most SF out there. I probably can’t recommend this to everyone, but I thought it was great, so potential readers can make of that what they will.

Self-Reference Engine

Self-Reference Engine
Enjo To (EnJoe Toh)

By the author’s own admission, this one isn’t for everyone. Enjo To (I refuse to endorse improper romanization) is a theoretical physicist turned award-winning, but controversial, author. Self-Reference Engine is his debut novel, critically acclaimed and utterly impenetrable. It is also his first novel in English, though it was preceded by a short story in Haikasoru’s The Future is Japanese. (Also impenetrable.) Enjo fills it with brain melting science and convoluted storytelling, not so much daring readers to follow him as casually inviting them into his post-Einsteinian home. Some will go for this, others will just be confused. Enjo offers no apologies for the craziness. After all, he has said in interviews, if a story is about a fractured space-time, shouldn’t the story itself be fractured?

I’m guessing that most readers will have decided by now if they want to give Self-Reference a try, so rather than write a proper review, I’m going to try to create a framework to help someone who just picked it up the book to make sense of it. (With the caveat that plenty went over my head, and this probably requires two or three attempts before any sort of real clarity can be found.) I will eschew spoilers, but it’s kind of hard to spoil a non-linear narrative where characters share names but not identities, and things are happening in different parts of the multiverse.

First, Self-Reference is a post-Singularity novel. AI’s evocatively called “giant corpora of knowledge” have taken over the show and left humans, with their puny reasoning limits, far behind. (Apparently the Japanese term is an Enjo original, so translator Terry Gallagher was forced to come up with the phrase. I think he did well.) The book goes further though, post-post-Singularity if you will, because the corpora have inadvertently gone so far as to shatter the space-time continuum. This is known as “The Event,” and frames the novel. A more orthodox story would follow the post-Apocalyptic struggle of humanity, or perhaps chart the corpora battle to reunite the fragments of the multiverse. Enjo is anything but orthodox however, so we get flashes and vignettes, but nothing so mundane as a plot.

The twenty-two chapters sketch out The Event, life immediately after, corpora campaigns to fix things, and other seemingly random scenes. They are, indeed, self-referential, though not always obviously so. Names repeat, though the characters may or may not be iterations of themselves. Objects and ideas reappear, but one can’t say for certain that they are the same objects and ideas. The efforts of the greatest minds in existence chase their own tails through space-time, moving in, if I recall correctly, 87 dimensions. More surprises await in the second half as, I think, Enjo actually goes so far as to affirm humanity’s importance. Unless I totally misunderstood that part.

The reader should be prepared for brain damage at every turn. My favorite chapter involved the discovery of 22 unconscious Freuds in grandma’s house, one under each tatami mat in the living room. There is a cameo by Military SF. There is unrequited love. There is possibly requited love between a man (I think) and a transgendered sock. There is first contact, slapstick comedy (of a sort), and furniture invading from another universe. Does it all come together in the end? Um, maybe. Then again, I don’t think it’s really supposed to. Enjo wants to explore a fractured space-time, so that’s what we get. Clearly, this isn’t going to work for some people.

Some of my friends should definitely read this. Others should probably avoid it. I’m guessing everyone will know immediately which side of the fence they are on; I wouldn’t think to change any minds. I won’t have time in the near future to give Self-Reference the reread it deserves, but I’m glad I made it through once. The weirdness sits just fine for me.

The Burning Dark

The Burning Dark
Adam Christopher

Well, I fell off the blogging truck there for awhile, for a wide variety of reasons including, but not limited to, emergency doorknob repair, elementary school choir concerts, and playing soul music for confused contra dancers. I’m back though, hopefully with a bang and a promise of consistency. This week’s topic is the prequel to Adam Christopher’s newest novel, generously provided to me by the marketing team there. Thanks, Tor!

I must admit to going into The Burning Dark willfully misled. I got through the first sentences of the dust jacket blurb, the ones wherein a guy named after my home state engages in space battles with mechanical arachnids, and dove right in. I totally missed the bits about haunted space stations and the like. Whoops! I was in for a big surprise, starting from Chapter Two, since Burning Dark is more like The Haunting of Hill House crossed with Solaris, if David Drake were writing. It was probably another fifty pages before I recovered from that shock and really dug into things; that is nothing I will hold against the author.

Many years ago, one or another teacher pushed us all through the aforementioned Hill House. I remember ending up frustrated with the book, since SFF-inclined me wanted the author to take us through what was obviously a very cool haunted house. Instead, we get a character study of an unreliable, and fairly annoying, protagonist. Fewer ghosts and secret passages, more emo whining. (At least, this is my memory of the book. Apparently it’s famously well thought of.) I was reminded of this for the first 200 pages or so of Burning Dark, as Christopher introduces the protagonists, their angst, and their numerous travails, rather than mapping out the creepy space station and weirdo star it orbits. He does start to deliver more at the end, though it was a bit of a slog at times for me. (Mileage may vary – I am not a ghost story aficionado.)

The action begins with a retelling of a Japanese creation myth that made absolutely no sense at the time. It is a clear sign of my daily post-work exhaustion that I totally failed to connect this to a massively obvious clue that overshadows the rest of the book, until the very last chapter. That or impending senility, but I’m hoping for the former. Anyway, those not up on Japanese mythology may miss it anyway. As the book proper starts, one Idaho Cleveland is blowing the crap out of bad guy spiders from his perch on a space battleship. Good times. Three cheers for anything named Idaho, but worse things are definitely ahead. We know this because everyone knows that God hates Cleveland. (Sports joke, for those not up on athletic woe.) Captain Idaho quickly finds himself reassigned for a final tour, since the most recent battle left him with both medals of honor and a reconstructed knee, and we are introduced to the crazy space station Coast City.

Coast City orbits a star that messes up nearby communications and electronics, is being decommissioned, and is inhabited by the last remnants of crew and military. People have disappeared, lights flicker, the heaters don’t work, giant swaths of the station are either uninhabited, being disassembled, or both, and strange things are afoot. We see these from a few different perspectives as the book moves through standard haunted house dance steps. Most of the characters are marines or starship captains, giving things a veneer of military SF, and there are just enough big words and futuristic tech to tease at Hard SF, but mostly this is a horror story.

As such, most opinions of the book will depend entirely on how people feel about horror. It’s not really my thing, so I didn’t find Burning Dark gripping for long stretches. The end is rousing enough to win me over and the world building is deep enough to warrant further reading; the follow up novel looks to be more in line with conventional SF. I will be checking it out later this year and expect to enjoy it. Burning Dark gets a rec from me for anyone looking for a change of pace, or who is curious about mixing SF and ghost stories. The Analog crowd probably won’t enjoy it, nor anyone wanting space battles and aliens. Beyond that, the reader will have to decide.

Building Harlequin’s Moon

Building Harlequin’s Moon
Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper

I would not normally have read this book. Much as I love Larry Niven, I am skeptical of his later books, especially those co-written with authors I have never heard of. Knowing nothing of Building Harlequin’s Moon, I heard Brenda Cooper on a recent Skiffy and Fanty podcast saying very interesting and intelligent things. Part way through she mentioned collaborating with Larry Niven, and, since I have been seeking out female authors anyway, decided that I should look into this further. Cooper’s comments on a number of issues were enough to overcome any suspicions.

I don’t have any proof of this, but I suspect that Cooper did most of the grunt work and Niven was the idea man. I’m pretty sure that Niven wrote the prologue, wherein the planetary engineer Gabriel builds and hibernates his way through 60,000 years of comet and moon smashing to create a semi-livable habitat orbiting a super-massive gas giant called Harlequin. Big time Hard SF ideas here, and very fun. The rest of the book is more of a character-based societal study, as Gabriel and his fellow starship crew members try to figure out how to handle the indentured colony they put on Harlequin’s moon Selene, while the Moonborn stumble towards some sort of independence under the reluctance of a biologist named Rachel. The initial combination of teen protagonists and political narrative struck me as Cooper’s contribution, since it didn’t feel like most Niven I have read. The big picture and the science did, but not the people.

Oddly, the very first lesson I learned from Harlequin is that I should probably never read a YA novel again. No doubt there are many good ones out there and I am doing myself a disservice, but teens irritate me. (I’m sure this has nothing to do with my tween daughter, my forced re-introduction to pop music and/or teen culture through her, or the face melting crap she watches on TV. Nothing at all.) The initial chapters of Harlequin pack in enough angst, awkward romance, and adolescent scheming that I almost gave up there. Fortunately for all involved, I didn’t, but I think this colored my view of the rest of the novel, which does move into more grownup territory after the first big twist. Again, nothing wrong with YA stuff, just not something I can tolerate at this point in my life.

The rest of the book left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, Selene is a fascinating place that I would gladly read more about. Niven is no stranger to mind blowing feats of engineering and Selene will stand proudly next to anything in Known Space or the Co-Dominion. On the other hand, the whole political situation felt simplistic to me, with the Earthborn attitudes towards the Moonborn only partially grounded in fictional reality. Cooper (I assume) gives just enough of a backstory to make things plausible, but enough to be entirely convincing. While I am well aware that people acting like dirtbags requires little or no motivation, there are a few missing stations on the railroad from fleeing Earth to enslaving ones progeny. But on the gripping hand, when everything reached a lengthy and satisfying climax, I felt attached to the protagonists and empathized with them far more than I expected to. I don’t think this was purely emotional manipulation.

I have purposely avoided reading other reviews at time of writing, since I want to puzzle this one out on my own. I’m curious what people have to say about Harelquin though. It’s an uneasy mix of Niven’s brand of Hard SF, YA emotions, and the colonialism and equality topics bubbling so freely through the genre right now. Chapters swing from Ringworld-esque engineering escapades to scenes of struggle that one might find in Stephanie Saulter’s searing Gemsigns. The characters argue about planetary biology or AI consciousness, then wing off into … whatever kids these days are reading. Longing somethingerother, angst mumble mumble, feelings. Pep the stone hearted, recovering political scientist didn’t always know how to handle this. (Spoiler alert: the big ideas were the best part.) I’m almost certain that I can find reviews that say exactly the opposite: “Loved the characters and romance, didn’t get the science-y bits,” or “Such an inspiring tale of freedom, but could do without the weepy stuff.” I suppose the Sad Puppies would get sick of all the prominent women and the equality hand wringing, but salute Niven’s good old fashioned setting. This even as they grumble about the lack of competent white men saving the day.

Actually, I think the biggest hints that Cooper did a lot of the character work are the frequent scenes of Gabriel mansplaining things and getting tied in knots by the women.

To the book’s credit, it took enough twisty, scenic paths on its way to the inevitable conclusion that I was never sure where things would end up. Cooper and Niven wrap up the story in pretty much the only way they could have, but they still kept me off balance. As with almost everything else, the positives outweigh the negatives in the end, even if I needed some extra convincing. While admitting that my criteria can be obscure, I’m not going to give Harlequin my highest praise. It was a little too naïve for my taste, though the characters and authors managed to dodge the worst pitfalls – this could have been much worse. As I said earlier though, I was locked in for the last hundred pages and feel a surprising connection to Rachel, Gabriel, and a few others. That will push things over the last hurdle to “recommended” status.

Bonus points to everyone out there who catches the obscure Niven reference in this review.

Rating: Southampton. Flawed but charming, this mid-table club wins over neutrals with infectious enthusiasm, even if they won’t ever bring home the championship. And you thought I’d given up on footie nods.

Starborne

Starborne
Robert Silverberg

Short post this week due to craziness in The Attic. Also sun, which in these parts is cause for celebration. It’s like Venus in that one depressing Bradbury story kids always have to read, but we don’t lock anyone in closets here when the rain stops. Fortunately, Starborne is the perfect subject for a short essay, since it is a minor work and doesn’t really inspire lengthy rambling.

My ebook copy of Starborne was the free book of the month some time ago in Phoenix Picks, after which it languished on my Kindle until the last Japan trip forced me to read some of the backlog. It is also my first Silverberg, which, considering his stature in the field, is rather unfortunate. Something more impressive might have been nice. I have other books lying around, but never got to them; so it goes. Starborne is a contemplative book, low on drama and action, though fun in its own way.

The pace of the book syncs to the Japanese game of go, the favorite pastime on a ship full of people sent out from Earth to find a new planet to colonize. They maintain contact with Earth through a telepathic connection between two blind twins, one each on the ship and on Earth. What tension there is in the book comes when this connection attenuates, with nary an explosion or laser gun to be found. There are bits of planetary exploration, but those aren’t really the point of the book. Instead it’s more of a meditation on humanity and how we might push ourselves to a higher state.

Just as entertaining as the book are the reviews on Goodreads, most from disgruntled Hard SF fans complaining about one or another bit of flawed science and grumping at the total lack of engineering feats. There are also disapproving mentions of the free-love, lounge around in bathhouses ethos that pervades the ship that are good for a chuckle. I’m guessing that the space battle and/or alien invasion types didn’t make it past the first chapter. I wouldn’t recommend this to them anyway; it’s only for those seeking a more relaxing and philosophical read. Philosophical might be a strong word – it’s not hugely deep or profound, but I would put it a step above navel gazing.

A final observation before I send this out in the series of tubes that comprises the internet. I read this and Van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle within a month or two of each other; they are now hopelessly tangled up in my head. Not that they have anything in common beyond a voyaging spaceship, but my memories swing wildly between pulp action and restrained character emoting, wacky pseudoscience and metaphysical murmuring. Both authors would probably be appalled to hear this, but what can I do?

Sky Coyote

Sky Coyote
Kage Baker

I have two primary goals for this year’s reading: First, to finish more series than I start. Second, to maintain a diverse, well-balanced selection of authors. I realized about one third of the way through 2015 that I was failing on the second. Knowing that it was time to dilute the pale sausage fest a bit, I set about looking for a book in series, written by a woman. A lower severed head count was also on the wish list. Who should come to mind but Kage Baker, a name that appears on both the 2013 and 2014 favorite reads lists. I started her Company series last year, so Sky Coyote counts towards my first goal as well as diversifying my reading.

For those not familiar with Baker’s Company, here’s an executive summary. The whole series is about time travel and the Dr. Zeus company that discovered it. (Ha – get it? The Company!) Baker keeps her time travel under tight restriction, increasing palatability for me but not totally avoiding paradox and confusion. She is such a fun writer though that I will read anything she puts out, even topics I am normally leery of. Anyway, Dr. Zeus can send people back in time, but not into the future. They have also discovered immortality mechanisms, but those can only be put into the very young. Thus, they have sent people back in time, pulled out children that were about to die horribly, made them immortal, tested them for aptitude, and created an undying cadre to work their way to the year 2355, when apparently we all reach nirvana or something. Baker’s books follow various of the characters through history.

Sky Coyote is the second Company book. Our guide this time is the Facilitator, Joseph. Facilitators are Baker’s answer to Iain M. Banks’ Special Circumstances; to wit, the men and women who do the dirty work as Dr. Zeus tries to navigate its way through human history. We meet Joseph in the first Company book, but he is a supporting character to the biologist Mendoza. This time, Mendoza plays second fiddle. This is probably a wise choice, as Joseph is wise, weary, and witty, while Mendoza is mostly just angry. Joseph’s purpose is twofold: he narrates the actual story at hand and introduces the overarching plot that will presumably carry through later books. Baker’s dual approach here is not entirely effective, as reader satisfaction will depend more on the context they approach the book than is usually the case.

Sky Coyote is a surprisingly placid book. Joseph’s mission to a group of Native Americans involves little drama, the wider plot arc is outlined but not dug into, and nobody gets too excited about anything. Mostly. This appears to have irked some readers, but hit close to the target for me. I was ready for a smoother ride, though I can understand wanting a bit more out of Baker. This is very much a middle book whose purpose is less to tell a story than to build the foundation for everything to come. As Lady Holiday says in The Great Muppet Caper, “Oh, it’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.”

One other part of the book has generated negative reactions: the Native Americans in question. They talk a lot like modern day capitalists, which throws some people out of the narrative. This particular tribe (fictional I imagine) is targeted by the Company for exactly this reason; they have a surprisingly advanced economy for the era. Still, I was also surprised a bit by their behavior. While I think it is reasonable to question this without expecting some sort of “How, white man” trope, I have also stopped expecting everything pre-Adam Smith to be primitive. The world has seen a great many accelerated ideas in societies that we would least expect, so I don’t think it’s wholly implausible for a group of Native Americans to develop complex trade routes, credit systems, and price management schemes. It did take a few pages for the shock of the hedge fund manager dialogue to wear off, but I wasn’t bothered after that.

So the book kind of comes and goes, without an emotional wallop or extended incidences of pulse pounding. I naturally assumed that I would be a debonair Facilitator were Dr. Zeus to get ahold of me, though instead of using my jaded optimism to navigate the wilds of history, I would probably just be an extra nerdy musicologist. If so, I would fit in well with the rest of the story. I will probably double check the potential reader’s expectations before recommending Sky Coyote, and I expect that my reactions will change as I read further in the series, but for those who don’t need action on every page, this is a pleasant entry in Baker’s signature series.