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Interesting in places, but the story and characters are weak.
on 26 August 2016
I don't normally go for books that come in series, but I made an exception for this one because I enjoyed the first book. I was intrigued by some of the concepts that it introduced and some of the questions that it raised, and I wanted to see how the characters matured further into the timeline.
I was also interested to see how Pratchett and Baxter handled a book with an active conflict, particularly one that involved people capable of jumping between dimensions. Neither author is known for their action stories. So I wondered whether they would approach things from the perspective of a few participants in the conflict between Datum Earth and the colony worlds, or if they would just narrate a conflict from a really wide angle. This is were things started to go a little astray.
Although the title, and the blub inside the cover, suggest that this book is about a military confrontation (Or at least the potential for one), it's actually more along the lines of slow burning political disagreement. With the emphasis being on the word slow.
One side is a 2 dimensional group of farmers and firebrands who seem to be based on American Settlers during the Manifest Destiny" period, with some pilgrim fathers thrown in. The other side is a 1 dimensional totalitarian regime that is an extremely thinly disguised version of a certain real world government during a certain period in our history (Hint, it's not Germany).
Neither party really explains their motives, and none of the characters are particularly likable. Even the villain is just a cardboard cutout of his real world equivalent. He's more annoying than anything else.
Over all, there are too many characters with too little personality, their personal goals are 2 dimensional, and the book keeps jumping between plot threads that are too thin. Reading this book actually feels like trying to watch three different episodes of Startrek at the same time, by channel surfing between them at 5 minute intervals.
A number of the cast are from various minority groups, and this feels extremely forced. It's hammered into us that they are minorities (I'm including female military officers in this as well as racial minorities), yet the fact that they are from a minority is never really integrated into the story. It feels like somebody randomly stuck a pin into a page after the book was 90% complete and said "This character is going to be from X minority group". The character's background has almost no effect on the story. They don't think or act differently, or have any additional insight because of their background.
If done well racial diversity can add a lot to a story. Particularly if one character is able to bring something new or different to the table because of their experiences. Here it feels it was done in order to meet some kind of diversity quota.
The story doesn't flow very well, it meanders all over the place. The multiple story threads that Pratchett usually does so well just feel disconnected here. We're still left with more questions than answers, including many questions that are left over from the first book, but it's almost as if the author has forgotten about them. We're not teased with extra detail or insight, or anything that really grips us. In places it feels more like we're in a philosophy lecture than a science fiction novel.
The ending is weak an unsatisfying, and the last chapter can be summed up as "The obvious idiots realized that they were idiots and went home".
This book has its moments, and there was enough to keep me reading through to the end, but it's only really worth reading for the sake of completeness, not for its individual story.