Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Lost Memories of Lost Objects

For the first time, I wrote for the San Francisco Olympians Festival. "The Bow" was largely inspired by my backpack's being stolen last year, and it's the most personal, emotional play I've ever written, the first one where I am every single character. I toiled over it for months, and I ended up very proud of it. I got my top choices for the two leads, and one fantastic actor for another role; I had a cast who elevated the material.

And you can watch it!

It was well received, I think. Tracy cried. Marissa was at a loss for words. And Sarose wanted to smash a glass on her face to focus on physical pain instead of emotional pain. I'd call that a success!

But the best praise ever came from my former boss:
Your play was very touching and by far the deepest of all those performed yesterday. I really appreciated the sensitive approach you took with the tool of war theme. I thought the 2 male side characters' dialogue added an interesting forced contemplation of the dialogue of the 2 female characters (archer and bow). Love, admiration, respect, longing, loss, betrayal, disappointment, death. Your play had it all.

Someday you will be considered famous by others that don't know you. Today you are famous in the eyes of those that know and respect you.
I can't even. (And if that weren't enough, the girl who played The Bow really loved the play and keeps telling me how great it is, the most recent bit being "I don't think I will ever think about these things the same way again." Which, wow.)

The Ghost Brigades focuses on one of the most intriguing parts of the world John Scalzi created in Old Man's War: an elite corps of supersoldiers even more super than everyone else in the Colonial Defense Forces. They're so enhanced some people don't even consider them human. Their very existence in Old Man's War brought up interesting questions about identity and humanity, and in this excellent sequel, Scalzi takes those questions into fascinating new territory.

Jared Dirac, newest member of the Ghost Brigades, faces an intriguing identity crisis: he carries within him the consciousness of a traitor against humanity, put there in an attempt to discover his motives and secret plot. Although he may look like an adult, he is really a newborn, discovering the world and his place in it. Inevitably, of course, he must deal with the fact that there is another person inside him, which leads to an examination of many of my favorite themes. It ends up becoming a fantastic character study about Jared, who he is, and who he chooses to be.

While Old Man's War stood alone well enough, this book truly lays the groundwork for an ongoing series, as it gives us closer glimpses into the CDF and the conflicts with the various alien races. In many ways, it is an improvement over the first book: it is far more focused, with a conflict and goal established very early on that informs the actions of everyone throughout the book. Even the writing seems sharper and more polished.

The Ghost Brigades is nearly impossible to put down; I basically wanted to quit life and keep reading. It's a welcome return to an engrossing world with an incredibly likable protagonist and a favorite returning character. If Old Man's War heralded a bold new voice in science fiction, The Ghost Brigades absolutely confirms it.

I read these books back in frickin' July, so I'm just going to dump my reviews of the rest of the series here, behind spoiler-cuts, as the premises are somewhat spoilery.

[The Last Colony]The Last Colony brings John Perry back for narrating duties, now happily living in retirement with Jane Sagan and their daughter, Zoe. But just when he thinks he's out, they pull him back in! But not as a soldier: as the leader of a new colony, the ominously named Roanoke. He soon discovers there is far more to Roanoke than meets the eye, and before you know it, he's caught up in an interstellar Game of Thrones.

Unlike its more military-focused predecessors, this book provides an interesting perspective on colonization and colonists, the regular folk. But it's really more about the role of the Colonial Union as a government and representative of humanity and their place in galactic politics. What responsibility does a government hold to its constituents? How can humans coexist peacefully with so many other alien races? It tackles topics that aren't as near and dear to my heart—although Jane Sagan continues to have her share of identity issues—so I wasn't as madly in love with it. That being said, what it does, it does very well, and after a somewhat slow start, Scalzi keeps the plot moving as the fate of Roanoke hangs in the balance. Political intrigue and plot twists galore! He is writing about things I like to read about in the way I like to read about them.

While it's not quite as strong as the first two books—it seems like most of the "action" is in revelatory dialogue—it's still very engaging with good characters—both human and alien, both old and new—and it's just as hard to put down as anything else John Scalzi writes, that addictive bastard.

[Zoe's Tale]In Zoe's Tale, a parallel novel to The Last Colony, John Scalzi retells the events from Zoe's perspective. Zoe is a likable character, and Scalzi slips into the voice of a teenage girl fairly well, so well, in fact, that it's kind of jarring to experience this universe through her eyes. In the Acknowledgments, he notes that the book was partly written to address two common complaints about The Last Colony: a dropped plot point regarding the original inhabitants of Roanoke and a portion of the book where Zoe spends a significant amount of time from the narrative. Unsurprisingly, these are the strongest and best parts of the book, the ones that make it worth reading. It's certainly no Ender's Shadow, which managed to be compelling in its own right by weaving in an original story for Bean. The vast majority of the book is either things we already knew with a bit of false suspense since we know the outcome or the life of a teenage girl. The interesting bits, however, concern Zoe's relationship to the Obin and how she reconciles her identity as a teenage girl with her status as the most important person in the universe. All in all, the book feels inessential but pretty satisfying.

[The Human Division]For The Human Division, the latest book in the Old Man's War series, John Scalzi experimented with a serialized format, piecing together thirteen stand-alone short stories into a novel. Though not entirely successful, it results in a book that may actually be more entertaining and enjoyable than The Last Colony (though not as amazing as Old Man's War or The Ghost Brigades).

With The Human Division, Scalzi puts Old Fart Harry Wilson at the forefront, a Colonial Defense Force tech geek who finds himself on a diplomatic mission as part of "the B-team": a ragtag group of misfits who aren't important enough for the good stuff but sure do have some success in unusual situations. He has a bromance with Hart Schmidt, a forlorn assistant, and his crazy ideas are frequently too much for Captain Coloma, a fierce protector, and Ambassador Abumwe, a tough negotiator. Aboard the Clarke, they navigate the dangerous and unexpected waves of diplomacy in a universe where humanity is divided at a time when they need to be united against a common enemy: the Conclave, an alliance of hundreds of alien races imposing their will upon all who refuse to join. But there appears to be a wild card in the mix...

Scalzi alternates "episodes" between those focused on the Clarke and the major goings-on of the plot and those focused on specific characters, some of them regulars and some of them one-shots. With one notable exception, these side stories are great, giving us some more insight into characters we know or simply telling a good stand-alone story. They vary in relevance to the main plot, but each one helps broaden the picture of the story Scalzi is telling by showing us different perspectives. As it is, despite an exciting double-length finale, the main plot isn't satisfying anyway, and I'm very glad that the story will be continued in another "season." The character arcs, however, are much more satisfying: Scalzi realized as he was writing that that was the real story of the book anyway.

Even though the whole isn't quite the sum of its parts, the parts are really good, although the repeated exposition gets irritating when reading straight through. It's the funniest book in the series (he'd just finished writing Redshirts, after all), and while it doesn't tackle a lot of deep themes like the previous books in the series, it's a solid installment, and I look forward to reading more about these characters and this world.

I highly recommend the series!
Tags: books, i am so awesome, personal, pimpings, real life friends, theatre

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