Saturday, March 6, 2010

"The Crucible of Empire" by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth

Eric Flint is another of my favorite authors, mainly because of his sympathetic characters and general optimistic outlook. He's very prolific, often writing with a variety of co-authors, and I must admit that he's been hit or miss recently. He might be trying to do too much too fast (although I've also heard that he's been ill). But at his best, he's very entertaining.

K.D. Wentworth is the author of Black on Black (1999) and its sequel, Stars Over Stars (2001), two entertaining novels featuring an alien, raised by humans, struggling to fit in with others of his primitive species.

Together, they wrote The Course of Empire (2003), which takes place 20 years after the Earth has been defeated by an alien species called the Jao. Many humans still resist the occupation, though they have almost no chance of being successful. Others have resigned themselves to reality. What none of them realize is that Jao and humans are both at risk from a genocidal species called the Ekhat.

It's a good read, though with some gaps in logic (or so it seems to me). Interesting, and generally sympathetic, characters of both species struggle to understand each other. And what would you do in a situation like this, conquered by another species with no chance of successfully rebelling? (Note that all three of the books mentioned above are available free at Baen Books.)

The Crucible of Empire is the brand-new sequel to their first book. Humans and Jao are working together, if with some distrust yet, when yet another species enters the mix. The Lleix had been thought extinct, destroyed by the Jao centuries ago when they'd been a slave species of the Ekhat. But it turns out that a few still exist, and a ship, crewed by both Jao and humans, is sent to investigate.

This novel, too, is entertaining. But the ship doesn't encounter the Lleix until almost two-thirds of the way through the book. To me, the most interesting part of a situation like this lies in seeing the three species, all with very different cultures, interact. Admittedly, we do see Jao who are unfamiliar with human beings struggling to understand our species, but after the first book, there's nothing particularly new in that.

Also, the final third of the book seemed a bit rushed. An Ekhat is captured alive, along with a few individuals of a new slave species they'd created, but... that's the last we hear of any of them. And in the first book, we saw how Jao and humans working together provided the best chance of defending the Earth from the Ekhat, far better than either working separately. In this one, I would have preferred to see the synergies from all three species working together. But we don't get to see that (though it's implied, I guess).

Well, the book is still fun. It's not award-winning stuff, but it's definitely entertaining. (That could describe most of Eric Flint's fiction.) I wouldn't say that this novel is as good as the first book, but if you liked that one, I'm sure you'll like this one. In both books, it's easy to care about the characters, no matter what species they are.


Rena said...

To me, it felt very much as if this book were the middle book--I'm slightly optimistic that there will be another sequel that will flesh out the details a little more.

What do you mean about 'gaps of logic' in Course of Empire? On an emotional/social level, I felt the plot made sense.

WCG said...

I hope you're right, Rena.

Re. the 'gaps in logic,' to be honest, I don't remember. I've read the book a couple of times, but not in several years. I remember feeling that way, and my notes include that phrase, but at this point, I really don't remember why.

I think I had trouble with the whole plan by the Bond, that it just didn't make much sense to me. But I don't remember the details, so I guess I shouldn't have mentioned it here.


Rena said...

The plot did make sense to me, though it seemed to be extremely risky in regards to strategy, since they were banking on Aille being smart enough, innovative enough and "Pluthrak" enough to be able to figure out, "hey, humans are actually almost as advanced as we are--we need to change our methods in dealing with them!"