Read Recently — March 2014

Prime by Poppy Z Brite

A re-read. The original write-up is here. Still highly recommended — more highly, actually, since the good Doctor Brite could use the money these days.

A Confederation of Valor: Valor’s Choice/The Better Part of Valor by Tanya Huff

A re-read, but not one I wrote up before. This is, of course, a compilation of the first two Confederation novels, Huff’s space opera stories (she is allegedly working on the new one as I write this).

Basic background: it is the future. The peaceful aliens of the Confederation believed that all species that expanded to the stars would have evolved (socially) past the need to make war, so when they encountered the aggressive nation that came to be known as “the Others” (interesting choice of name there by Huff, eh?) they assumed that negotiations would suffice. When that failed (their ambassadors kept being returned in small pieces) they decided that they needed help. Humanity, barely into space and dreadfully aggressive, were recruited with promises of access to the stars and threats that the Others were headed our way. Soon they were joined in the Confederation armed forces by the di’Taykan (sexy space elves with pastel hair (tecnhically, sensory organs that resemble hair) and pheromones that allow them to seduce almost anyone) and the Krai (short, tree-dwelling humanoids with the ability to digest anything they can wrestle down their throat two falls out of three). The highest compliment a di’Taykan can give someone is that you’re worthy of being a parent; the highest complient from the Krai is that you probably taste good. Yes, it’s the planet of hats again, but hey: space opera does not get it’s name from the singing. Huff does do her usual job of making all the individual characters stand out from their hats, though.

In Valor’s Choice we meet Torin Kerr, Staff Sergeant of Sh’quo Company, Confederation Marines. Sh’Quo company has just gotten back from the action and should be on leave, but two-star general Morris needs a military escort to accompany ambassadors to bring a new species into the Confederation. The new species, the Silsviss, are highly agressive reptiloids; General Morris wants real combattants to impress them with. Torin is not impressed, but hers is not to reason why, etc. She puts a group together and, with a brand-new second Lieutenant (the Captain being on medical leave) sets off to impress the Silsviss. While things go quietly at first, rumours of Other activity in the sector kinda put the Marines on edge, and then while their ship is away investigating those rumours, things go horribly wrong as the marine transport is shot down over a nature preserve full of angry, hormonal adolescent lizards who manage to raid the transport’s weapon locker before it can blow up. Vastly outnumbered, hindered by wounded marines, non-combatant diplomats (literally unable to fight for themselves), and bickering officers, the Marines settle into a seige and try to survive long enough to get back off the planet and figure out what’s going on.

In addition to the usual “soldier’s duty” stuff endemic to milsf, we also get a meditation on the usefulness of sergeants. Huff avoids some of the tropes of warporn by giving most of the Marines names and real personalities, and then actually killing many of them, leaving us in doubt at any point as to who will actually survive. The enemy remain faceless, but that is the nature of a seige story. Huff also presents her usual sex-positive world (universe), albeit through the di’Taykans, who are happily slutty and bisexual and looked down on by no one because of it.

In the Better Part of Valor, Torin is once again called on by General Morris, who is assembling a team of random soldiers from different companies for a special mission. After the last time, who else would he want but Sergeant Kerr? The mission in this case is exploring a derelict ship of an unknown species, found floating dead in space by Civilian Salvage Operator Craig Ryder. Ryder, a charming rogue, claims the ship as salvage so if the military wants to explore it, they have to take him along. In addition to protecting Ryder and the civilian scientists, Torin must make a coherent team of a diverse group of Marines who have never worked together before (business as usual, in other words), and also keep her captain, a Krai “hero” who’s actually a lucky but bumbling idiot (but who is being groomed for political success) not only alive, but she must also ensure that he emerges more of a hero.

The reason for General Morris’ secrecy soon becomes apparent as the media descend on the mission. Confederation law means that the military can keep no secrets from the media if directly asked, and Presit a Tur DurValintrisy, a Katrien reporter, has every intention of asking the right questions. Yes, she’s going on the mission too.

Once on the alien vessel (called “Big Yellow” because it is both big and yellow) everything seems to be going boringly well, until something causes an explosion, killing several of the scientists, putting the Captain into a coma, and resulting in Torin, Ryder, and Presit being sucked through a deck and separated from the rest of the Marines. While they quickly enough reconnect, they soon discover that the interior of Big Yellow seems to have been taken in parts from their various memories. It is perhaps herding them in a particular direction. And some enemy soldiers, “Bugs”, are trapped with them.

Back on their ship, new problems are developing. The main engines are down and cannot be restarted. An Other ship is about to warp into the system and the only weapons the Confederation ship can bring to bear are her fighters.

Once again, Huff presents an interesting crew of characters, both likeable (Torin, Guimond) and annoying (Presit, Captain Travik). Ryder starts out looking like he’s going to be the latter, but manages to move into the former category, both by charm and heroic action. The enemy is still othered (literally), but less so this time as we see the Bugs closer up. In a nice touch, they cannot speak to the Confederated soldiers, as they communicate by scent, making them probably the most alien aliens in the series.

Considering the series involves a lot of meeting nice people and then watching them die, it’s hard to call this “fun” reading, but on the other hand, it’s not your standard conservative gun pron either. Torin is possibly my favourite of Huff’s protagonists so far, and that makes this highly recommended.

50 Great Myths About Atheism by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk

Blackford and Schuklenk divide their selected myths up into groups, each group being a chapter: Chapter 1, “What Is Atheism?” covers myths like, “Atheism is just another religion” and “Atheism is a rebellion against God’s authority”. Other chapters include, “Atheist living”, “Horrible, Strident Atheists”, and “The Rise of Modern Atheism”. Well written, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Too bad the people who need it most will never read it.



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