Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Félix J. Palma - The Map of Time

My review of The Map of Time is now up at Strange Horizons. It's not the most positive one I've done, not by a rather long shot. I will, though, be returning to Palma's writing before too long with its sequel, The Map of the Sky, which was sent to me for review by the publisher.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


This week the Hat Rack will, sadly, be without a proper Tuesday update. I think I have a good reason for that, though. Well, two good reasons. First: you get a Wednesday update. My review of Félix J. Palma's The Map of Time will be going up on Strange Horizons, then, and I'll be sure to link you all.

There's also something else that I can't quite say yet, because I'm waiting for a certain awesome link to include with the announcement. But it's rather exciting and well worth the wait.

Until then...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dan Abnett - The Founding

"Men of Tanith! Do you want to live forever?" (p. 33)

In the war ravaged 41st millennium, the Imperial Guard hold the line against the fearsome Xenos and Heretics in their endless billions. The Sabbat Worlds, infested by Chaos, are the target of a great Imperial crusade. One of the many regiments of Guardsmen involved is the Tanith 1st, the Tanith First and Only, the Ghosts. The Gaunt's Ghosts series is where Dan Abnett first came into the Warhammer 40,000 setting, and it is still his most famous work. This omnibus, The Founding, collects the first three novels of the series: First and Only, Ghostmaker, and Necropolis.

Unlike Abnett's later Ravenor trilogy, Gaunt's Ghosts is purebred Military Science Fiction. The Ghosts, of course, are not any old regiment. They hail from a destroyed world, for Chaos fell upon their home even as they were brought aboard their troopships. It was Colonel-Commissar Gaunt who saved the troops who had already boarded, taking them away from their homeworld before they could die failing to defend it. For that, his men hate him. For his brilliance, and for the way that he knows and cares for each of them, they love him.

First and Only faces the burden of introducing the horde of Ghosts, but it doesn't let itself get bogged down in that task. After opening with a well executed battle, the storyline broadens to include intrigue and treachery from the Imperium's high command. The novel's middle sections, in which the character's gradually learn more about the plots afoot serves to deepen the action, and, when we return to war with the book's climax, Abnett is able to manage both the intrigue and the battle without sacrificing either, even if he does indulge (throughout the volume) in the occasional unnecessary, unfounded, and silly plot twist, like the revelation that a villain who already had perfectly good motivations is really just angry because Gaunt killed his father. Groan. Still, these failed plotting flourishes are saved by their very superfluousness, and their clunking does nothing to hamper the main storyline's successful execution.

But while the intrigue is initially successful, it doesn't always work as well. We are told early on that: The command echelon generally believed in the theory of attrition when it came to the Imperial Guard. Any foe could be ground into pulp if you threw enough at them, and the Guard was, to them, a limitless supply of cannon fodder for just such a purpose. (p. 22) Okay, fair enough, and we do see that attitude, along with Gaunt's desire to get his men through nonetheless.

And yet the command echelon's failings go beyond a cavalier dismissal of the cost. No, just about every commander in the Guard soon turns out to be evil on the level of moustache twirlers. As I said, it works in First and Only. One power hungry traitor is more than believable. But the trope comes up again and again in each of the omnibus' three books, and it wears thinner with each. By the third or fourth time we hear theoretically sane commanders speak of ridding him [the high commander] of Gaunt and his damn Ghosts, (p. 269) one has to start wondering how an army that does nothing but snipe at its own elite has managed to not implode in an hour, let alone managed to wage a successful crusade.

Nonetheless, Abnett is an excellent battle writer, able to, through the deft shifting of perspectives and viewpoints, give us both the jagged edge of the frontlines and the grander picture. The Ghosts are just one unit among many. Their surviving and falling is vital to them, and the reader feels the adrenaline besides them. But while they might even be the decisive unit, they are just one part of a larger whole, and Abnett is adept at showing his powerful heroes subservient to and occasionally thrown aside by events beyond their control.

In the Chaos-tinged setting of Warhammer 40,000, this means that he can indulge in some inventive and striking tricks and traps, generating a lasgun-armed equivalent of Lovecraft's fear of the unknown. One advancing soldier, cut off from anyone besides the men immediately around him, is just aware of the inexplicable syncopated and irregular thudding of the drum machines that that Shriven had left here. There was no pattern to their beat. Worse still, Corbec was more afraid there was a pattern, and he was too sane to understand it. (p. 52)

In addition to the battles and intrigues shown, First and Only focuses on establishing the character of Gaunt and his heroism, which it does through showing him in battle, through showing us our first glimpses of how his troops view him, and through flash backs at the end of each chapter. These flashbacks are a surprisingly successful tactic. Their very regularity prevents them from becoming a simple distraction to the action; the reader comes to anticipate them, and they become as much a part of the story as Gaunt's present whereabouts. More importantly, Abnett makes each flashback into a miniature story of its own, filling them with drama rather than leaving them as narrative-shaped infodumps.

With Ghostmaker, Abnett widens the focus from just Gaunt to the entirety of the regiment. Both of the first two novels were woven together from short stories originally published in Inferno! (as can be seen here). But while First and Only told a complete story despite its slightly episodic nature, Ghostmaker is more of a mosaic novel. As a major engagement on the planet Monthax nears, Gaunt walks through his lines and, as he encounters his men, we hear stories of their past.

The stories are excellent. In just a few pages, Abnett manages to establish setting and conflict (each takes place in a different battle) and then to delve deep into the focal character while still bringing the tale to a satisfyingly martial close. The greatest are those that take characters on the Ghost's periphery, those that hold specialized jobs, and immerse the reader in their minds and in their brutal work. In "The Angel of Bucephalon," the regiment's best sniper debates his hallucinations as he waits for the kill shot. "Sound and Fury" pits the scout Mkoll against a monolithic dreadnought that will slaughter him if it can find him in the forest; it is so successful at drawing the reader into the terrified need for absolute silence that, while reading, I found myself afraid to breathe too loudly. By the end of all these stories, I felt like I'd known the key Ghosts for years. Each of them was fleshed out, and knowing the men in the ranks gives the reader a stake in every gunfight to come.

The problem with Ghostmaker's structure comes at the end. Throughout, the frame story was nothing more than a prompt for reminisces. In the climax, the battle on Monthax fails to take on much more significance than any of the random flashback conflicts did. This isn't a crippling blow, and there are still interesting sequences. However, at the end, when Gaunt allies his forces with the Eldar against the crushing might of Chaos, it's hard to feel the necessity for such a potentially heretical act when this near ultimate Chaos threat has only come into being a few dozen pages before.

The final novel of this first Gaunt's Ghosts trilogy, Necropolis, has by far the strongest individual story. It is a brutal Science Fiction siege that resembles Stalingrad more than a little, albeit with the technology and the scale blown to delicious excess. The Ghosts don't enter for the first section of the novel, allowing us to get to known the people of Vervunhive as the attack nears and begins, devastating much of the city's defenses. As the Ghosts and other Guardsmen arrive, and as the war begins in earnest, we continue to follow those initial characters, who not only play into the overall military narrative but who also give us an understanding of the destruction's implications. Along the way, it should be noticed, Abnett delves into the well of untrustworthy leadership again and, this time, nails it, creating in Commissar Kowle a leader crippled by his personal ambition but still fervently loyal to his cause.

Though it is certainly a very fun story, Necropolis often borrows the tone of a history, constructing key events from a multiplicity of viewpoints and meticulously marking the siege's progress by counting the days. By its end, Abnett acknowledges this, saying that the future rivalry of two local characters is "not pertinent to this history" (p. 737). The themes of history don't stop there. Embroiled in a conflict almost certain to end in death, the Ghosts are each aware of remembrance. The true loss that occurs when the las-bolt hits home is not simple death but rather erasure, the way that a soldier's name, and bearing and manner and being, was utterly extinguished from the Imperial Record (p. 210). The First and Only, more than any other regiment, are aware of the significance of this. They are, after all, ghosts already. When asked where their home is, they do not say that it is a place that is now destroyed. No, Tanith has been erased […] from the galactic records (p. 67). The ghosts are from "nowhere" (p. 539).

The Founding ends with a short story, "In Remembrance," a look back on the carnage of Necropolis and war. Bitter, one of the Ghosts says: Behold and marvel, this is what winning looks like (p. 751). It's a bleak phrase and a brief picture, and "In Remembrance" embraces it. The story's central character, an artist, is tasked with remembering and immortalizing the battle for Vervunhive. To learn its heart, he follows the Ghosts through the city's ruined and abandoned streets and sees the dead and the wounded. One of the people that the artist speaks to says I just don't think there's very much nobility to be found in this misery. What little there is belongs to the Tanith Ghosts, and I doubt very much you could capture that (p. 753). But Abnett does capture the Ghosts' nobility. This volume is filled with bloodshed and horror, but it also has humanity at its heart, and Abnett is equally adept at showing the men and the guns. Despite its occasional lapses in plotting or structure, The Founding is a very successful example of Military Science Fiction at its best.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kate Griffin - The Midnight Mayor

Druids say there is no greater wand of power than a unicorn's horn given willingly to the supplicant. In the city, there is no greater wand of power than a Zone 1-6 travelcard (p. 25).

In The Midnight Mayor, Kate Griffin returns to the magical London she established in A Madness of Angels - and what a glorious return it is. The Midnight Mayor is an exemplary sequel; it is at once bigger, badder, and more fun than the original, while also delving deeper into the why and into the very fabric of the city.

In the opening bits, we come to learn that the Midnight Mayor not only exists but was just killed; that our dear narrator, protagonist, sorcerer, and bearer of the blue electric angels, Mathew Swift, might be involved; that, whatever the truth of all that is, Mathew Swift is under deadly attack; the mythical Death of Cities is coming; and London is prophesized to fall. Whew, that's a fair bit of stuff for setup. And we don't slow down from there. To the stew, Griffin adds the Midnight Mayor's servants and the city's protectors, the Aldermen, and the story of a missing boy. Then there's Oda, a member of a sorcerer hating order who is, once again, forced to work with Swift. Needless to say, there is banter between them. Needless to say, it's damn witty.

With all that in it, The Midnight Mayor is an incredibly disorienting book. Reading, you almost never have your feet properly under you. Generally, it's more of a head-first tumble down a mineshaft. A part of that is the pacing. The Midnight Mayor starts in media res, and, when I say that, I don't mean it in the sense of, say, Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, where you get an action scene or two in the beginning and then things slow down to a steady build in which the reader and character can get oriented. London has better things to do than to let Mathew Swift find his footing. He, like the reader, is forced to piece together the puzzle of London's oncoming fall while struggling to survive every step of the way. And while we are on the subject of that puzzle, do you really think he is going to be handed all the pieces on a platter?

That brings us to the novel's world building and, with it, the novel's magic, for the two are rather inseparable. Some years ago, Brandon Sanderson (who, for an author that had absolutely nothing to do with this book, is really coming up rather a lot in its review) attempted to sit down and come up with how and why magic systems worked. Among other things, he got Sanderson's First Law of Magic. In his words: An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

Griffin takes Sanderson's law and smashes it to pieces over her sorcerous knee. Though the reader is certainly given enough of the pieces to understand each scene, they are never able to actually understand the magic of London. Likely because it, like the city itself, is simply too large, too varied, and too complex for something so pat as comprehension. Some parts, of course, are easy; this is urban sorcery, a magic of brick and neon (p. 26). Still, the reader never knows the exact limit of Swift's capabilities, and there is always the possibility of some previously unpredictable, new magical solution or element coming into play to save the day or alter the course of events. This could, obviously, be a recipe for rampant deus ex machina, but that's not the way things turn out at all.

The first part of why it all works is Griffin's imagination. Even knowing the vague ground rules – the interplay between the city and magic, the usage of the things just out of sight, and all that – there is a ton here that you'll just never see coming. But it all has a logic to it nonetheless, and when Griffin takes some wholly unexpected aspect of modernity and brings it to electric life, it makes far too much impossible sense for it to feel like a cheap shot. Her inventiveness is, needless to say, not simply relegated to plot twists and close scrapes. Many of the settings here, the minor as well as the major, are simply awesome, such as the night club run off the rhythm of the titanic heartbeat of its Executive Officer or the Heavy Metal Specters we meet in the prelude.

Then there's the matter of Griffin's prose. The first, admittedly rather nonsensical, description of it that comes to mind is simply FLASHBANGWOW. That mass of capitals isn't, I think, wholly off base. While Griffin is never quite overexcited, her prose is nonetheless supercharged with energy, and her attitude to description is anything but sparing. Griffin's writing is somewhat like looking at a photograph of a street crowded with people, buildings, cars, objects, and refuse. There's too much to take in at once, but you are going to take it in anyway, because Griffin picks up each and every one of those items and slams them into you until you have no choice but to try and grasp the entire city at once. This is not, mind you, just a when-it's-calm style that fades to more traditional and more transparent narrative in action scenes or climaxes. No, as the tension ratchets up, the prose does too, and the most exciting scenes are the ones that are the densest in terms of imagery. An example from a confrontation near the book's end:

[W]e pushed sideways, backwards, down, closed our eyes and twisted our fingers towards the great piles of discarded junk, remembering the smell of it, the rusted touch, the slime, the rot, the stink, the decay, the dead cat in its cardboard box, the fungus oozing over rotted things, the torn stuffing, the biting wire, the razored shattered edges, the tumbled glass, the melted plastic, the burnt steel, the everything. Everything we didn't want to see and didn't want to know, thrown aside; didn't care, didn't think, didn't need, didn't use, didn't work tossed and discarded and abandoned and forgotten and alone (p. 333).

This style of description via intentional excess, through what can frequently amount to genuine lists of detail, serves to first awe the reader and then overawe them. But while it is obviously far too much, it is gloriously too much. Griffin's verbosity doesn't serve to blur the picture but rather enhance it; London, here, doesn't become indistinct but rather a kind of blinding hyper-vivid that is hard to bear and hard to look at with one's eyes open but is endlessly rewarding once one grasps the trick of being born along by the flow of the words.

It is important, as well, to realize that, while Griffin certainly has a massive quantity of descriptions, she does not go for quantity over quality; she simply has a great, great deal of both. Instead of giving us one, as a writing instructor I've had would call it, surprising and significant detail, Griffin gives us ten, but each one is no less well chosen because of it. It's just that Griffin sees a dozen fascinating things about each scene, and she will not rest until we see them too. The reader that pauses and breaks down her lists into their component parts will see the craftsmanship that went into each link in the descriptive chain, and there are moments when Griffin does manage simple statements of understated and restrained poetry, such as when the day's end is described thus: Evening asked night if it was free for coffee (p. 284). She is also capable of humor and wit: Cynics call it fate, romantics call it destiny, lawyers call it malign intent. No one uses the word "coincidence." (p. 8)

And then there's the fact, though her exuberant style is just about the exact opposite of a restrained ghost story writer like Algernon Blackwood (who did, lest we forget, have a psychic detective of his own) or a noir writer like Raymond Chandler (whose Philip Marlowe is referenced on page 148), Griffin nonetheless does manage to give birth to a city dripping in fiery atmosphere and with myths that come to life. The Death of Cities is a character whose every action and approach is filled with an almost incalculable amount of dread and malice, and the hushed tales of his coming have a horrifying beauty to them, for, as Griffin says we all know and will not admit, a bomb going off [is] secretly, obscenely, immorally, indefinably, beautiful. (p. 405) To give just one example of these rumors about the Death of Cities:

Your hear stories. Stuff like… when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there was a house right in the middle of the blast, at its very heart, untouched while the rest of the city was leveled. They say that there was a man in the house, who had his face turned towards the sky as the bomb fell and who just smiled and smiled and didn't even close his eyes. (p. 228)

Urban sorcery is not just a clever magic system.  As Griffin says, [Magic is]a way of seeing things differently (p. 163), and her magic is a way of bringing to life the fabric of our cities and times. A Madness of Angels, distilled into one sentence, would be "magic is life." The Midnight Mayor does not simply wallow in the ground covered by its predecessor but rather subsumes A Madness of Angel's truths into it and then delves deeper, reversing the equation into life is magic (p. 151) and then discovering why.

The Midnight Mayor looks at what makes a city a city, at how people shape each other, and at whether it is the inanimate city that shapes its citizens or its citizens that shape the city. It is fascinating stuff, and the pages in which it is discussed in concentrated form towards the book's end manage to be both philosophical and to never break from the character or narrative established; these big questions are woven into the fabric of the story. Eventually, there comes forth the idea of the city –and, by extension, its denizens – as itself/themselves forming a "higher power" (p. 298).

The Midnight Mayor is the very blueprint of how to do a sequel. It is bigger and better than its predecessor, deeper in its explorations of genuine questions, more exciting, not only maintaining the first book's mystery but adding to it, and genuinely dripping with intoxicating flash and atmosphere. It's damn great.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Legwork" in Fantastic Frontiers Magazine

In all the excitement of late, I haven't had a chance to mention (or peruse myself) one other piece of absolutely fantastic news. The debut issue of Fantastic Frontiers Magazine is now available in the Apple marketplace, and, among numerous other worthy tales, is my short story "Legwork." To give you an idea of the story's contents and style, I wrote it fresh off the high of discovering not only VanderMeer's short stories but the writings of Haruki Murakami. I can't claim to have truly captured either of those titans' skill, but I think I did get something worthwhile out of the attempt.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vernor Vinge - The Children of the Sky

Vernor Vinge's Hugo award winning A Fire Upon the Deep stands as one of my absolute favorite works of Science Fiction, an exquisite blend of big ideas and fast paced adventure. The novel's themes and protagonist, if not the rest of its setting, received further exploration in its prequel, the (once again) Hugo winning A Deepness in the Sky. I had problems with the plot and pacing of that novel, but it was still a fascinating and well crafted book. The Children of the Sky, though, is, at long last, a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep that promised to continue the story past the cataclysmic events that ended that masterwork and to resolve what was probably best left unresolved. As you may have guessed from that last sentence, The Children of the Sky does not live up to its predecessors in either scope or execution.

We begin with Ravna and the children rescued from the Blight, who were stranded on a medieval world and are now waking from coldsleep. The Blight fleet that was pursuing them is still coming, but, due to their victory at that novel's end, will not arrive for centuries. By the time it does, Ravna knows that they must, using the information stored on their crashed ship (the Out of Band II)'s archives, advance to its technological level. But that's not quite as easy to do as it is to say, and there are problems along the way.

The vast majority of the novel is taken up by worldly political squabbling. The world is populated by the Tines, Vinge's fantastic group-minded and dog-like alien creation, but the Tines are not a homogenous whole. As if navigating the alien factions wasn't tricky enough, the humans, too, are splitting down the middle. The children, you see, quite literally slept through the events of the last novel. They don't feel the same terror that Ravna does at the thought of the Blight fleet. In fact, they aren't even sure if they believe Ravna's story. Their parents, after all, were the ones who unleashed the Blight, and they know that their parents were neither stupid nor evil. The faction that calls itself the Disaster Study Group reasons that, perhaps, the Blight was not evil but good and that Ravna and her ally Pham Nuwen were not heroes in stopping it but the perpetrators of a calamity on the scale of an interstellar genocide.

Like its predecessors, The Children of the Sky attempts to fill itself with numerous big ideas; alas, none  quite succeed. We get a few further insights into Tinish culture, particularly on the formation of packs and even on Tinish romance fiction. Those are all interesting, but none of it really rises beyond adding frills to their establishment in A Fire Upon the Deep. The one piece of new and Tinish ground treaded is that of the tropics, where innumerable Tines have merged together into a single massive whole. One of the choir's emissaries says: the Choir as a whole may not have what you call intelligence, but it is a happier way to know reality than is your stunted existence (p. 324). But we never delve deeper than that, never get more than vague hints and a few glimpses of how the choir really functions.

Like Tinish culture, the idea of recreating a star faring civilization from medieval routes is here on a far larger scale than it was previously but still adds little. In addition to Ravna's focused path, the inventor and businessman Tycoon begins what is called an industrial revolution in a far away land. Unfortunately, all of that stays in that far away land until the novel's ending. These developments should be beyond game changing for the Tines. Early on, one of Tycoon's associates admits that: Tycoon has lots of stupid ideas, including the notion of getting power by selling things (p. 53). That raises a fantastically interesting point, no? But we never return to it, never get to see how a Robber Baron might establish and conduct himself in the dark ages. Instead of focusing on massive societal changes, we see a bare handful of inventions and how they play into the bickering of the familiar factions.

Furthermore, one of the main ones of those factions, the Disaster Study Group, proves perpetually obnoxious to read about. I'll let them explain their foundation: The DSG starts from the position that we can't know exactly what happened at the High Lab and how we managed to escape (p. 77). To this, Ravna responds: When these deniers say 'we can't really know,' that is a lie. I know (p. 78). Nonetheless, the deniers, perhaps, have a credible reason for not trusting her. But Ravna is not the only one that knows what happened; the reader knows too. As a result of that, and as a result of how there is no new evidence or debate but simply two positions shouted at one another, the reader soon just grows annoyed at the deniers and wishes they'd finally find out so the novel could move on. It never does.

In the absence of big ideas, The Children of the Sky becomes a shallow thriller, and I doubt you'll be surprised when I add in that its plot isn't all that great either. The main problem with it is simply that it is long and bloated, something that is made a thousand times worse by virtue of the fact that it is almost perfectly predictable; my only incorrect assumptions were my continued hopes that the Blight's fleet would ever arrive, that the industrial revolution would take center stage, or that something  interesting would happen. At one point, Ravna is kidnapped. She and a few allies escape, but they are lost in the middle of nowhere. To survive, they decide (for some unfathomable reason) to be travelling performers. The section, like many of the novel's better ones, is effective but silly. Afterwards, they are recaptured again and, after that brief digression of roughly seventy-four pages, we go back to exactly where we were heading and Ravna is brought, captive, to the kidnappers' employers.

But the novel's real problem is character. There are multiple villains here, but every single one of them is of the moustache twirling variety. To give a small example, we learn that one of them always enjoyed (p. 369) throwing prisoners out of its air ship. The narration itself calls characters villains, every character in the book can agree without a doubt that they are evil (p. 231), and the debate is not on the issues or on the people themselves but rather on who is villain-in-chief (p. 304). To be fair, not every villain is simple, at least insofar as the word implies a lack of complexity. Some are idiots. Take this exchange between two of Ravna's captors as they stand over her:

"So you've told her about the radio link to the orbiter?"

"No, but you've done that now."

"…Oh." Gannon thought about that for a second and then laughed. "Like you said, it doesn't matter what she knows now." (p. 216)

It's not just the villains that are one dimensional. The main characters each have one or two dominant traits or interests, and that is all they are. The deniers may be wrong about the Blight's intentions, but they are right on the money when they say that Ravna is so obsessed with the threat that she cares about nothing else. More than it's a matter of goals, the problem is that Vinge's characters don't seem to have emotional lives. Johanna is betrayed by her fiancé, and we see her express anger, but the reader can't, despite their best effort, feel all that shocked by it. We don’t see a single scene of the two together, and we saw no affection for him in her thoughts even before the betrayal; the text would be fundamentally unchanged if we heard that the two were mortal enemies from birth on.

The characters' shallowness – and every one of the novel's other problems – is exacerbated by the prose. In A Fire Upon the Deep, Vinge wrote in a childlike tone when writing from a child's perspective, and, the rest of the time, wrote with a generally easy air filled with clever turns of phrase. Those are, very occasionally, visible here; Tinish group minds and their merging, for instance, can bring literal truth to the idea of a rumor having a life of its own. But it's not enough to save the mess that we've got.

Only one of The Children of the Sky's viewpoints is particularly young, and the vast majority of it is told from Ravna's perspective, which is to say that of a woman many decades into this whole living business. Yet she and every other character (the narrator most certainly included) talk like overexcited preteens. Devious aliens tell themselves to Be cool (p. 53). A human's Tinish companions are known as their Best Friend (p. 79). A supposedly clever human manipulator visibly reminds himself that the Tines are seriously not human (p. 127). The Out of Band II (or OoBII) is here always referred to as Oobii (p. 82). World leaders are described as geeky (p. 412).The occasional bit of not so surprising dialogue is followed by breathless interjections like: That was Jefri! (p. 419) Dialogue and narration are constantly interrupted by shouts of Hei! (p. 63), perhaps used as a preventative measure to drag back one's flagging attention.

If I was slightly more inclined to play the game of coincidences and portents, I might point out how this is the first volume of the series to not include the word deep in its title and how, no doubt as a direct result of that, it is the first to not be, in any sense of the word, deep. Whatever the fate of that conjecture, The Children of the Sky is nowhere near the level of either of its predecessors. Stripped of the overawing backing of one of Vinge's mammoth ideas, the plot and characters here are revealed as shallower than skin, and that's not at all helped by the author's juvenile diction. Even removed from the comparison to Vinge's other works, this is simply not a good book.