Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Fledgling" by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

(cover image from

In the late 1980's, I discovered three paperback SF novels - sort of romantic space opera - by husband and wife co-authors Steve Miller and Sharon Lee. The beginning of the Liaden Universe series, they were entertaining adventures with appealing characters. Although each book was complete in itself, they were all part of a continuing story, and I was anxious to see where it would turn out.

But for a long time, I was disappointed. Apparently, the books didn't sell well enough to suit the publisher, or so the authors were told. So they shrugged and moved on with their lives. It wasn't until a decade or so later that they connected to the Internet and discovered a thriving community of fans who, just like me, were wondering what had happened. Lee and Miller found another publisher and started writing again.

Apparently, all was well until 2006, when that publisher went out of business. With their own finances hurting (the publisher still owned the rights to most of their work), they decided on a plan to write a "side book" in the Liaden Universe, posting each chapter online and asking for donations (which would also give donors the right to the published book, when completed). I didn't know anything about that at the time, but eventually, the book was completed and the authors found a new publisher, Baen Books.

This book is Fledgling (2009), and it focuses on Theo Waitley, daughter of Daav yos'Phelium (who goes by the alias of Jen Sar Kiladi throughout this book). Theo showed up just briefly, and unexpectedly, at the very end of I Dare (2002), the conclusion (apparently) of the mainline Liaden story. But this book is set before that, when she's a 14-year-old girl living on a different planet and knows nothing of her Liaden heritage.

That's both good and bad. It's very good for fans of the series, since the focus is on different planets with different customs. (When reading a series, I always expect the author to have something new to say. Otherwise, why write another book? Often, a change of focus is a big help in that respect.) But it's bad if you haven't read the previous books in the series. Yes, this is a side book to the mainline plot, but there's is a lot in this book that would be confusing if you didn't already know who Jen Sar Kiladi was. Fledgling was written for fans of the series, that's obvious.

So what about the book itself? Well, I loved it. It would be suitable for juveniles, since the protagonist is so young, but it's well worth reading for adults, too. As science fiction, it doesn't focus on technology, but on cultures. Delgado, Theo's home planet, has quite an interesting culture (or, rather, multiple cultures, since the university has a culture all its own). Then there's travel on a passenger liner, which broadens Theo's perspective a bit, and some time on another planet, which is quite different yet.

Richard McKenna used to claim, or so I've heard, that his 1962 bestseller, The Sand Pebbles, was science fiction, with the "science" being anthropology. Well, this book is definitely science fiction, and yes, the science here is anthropology. The focus is on people and on culture. I love this sort of thing.

Saltation, the sequel to Fledgling, is supposed to be published in April. I can't wait.

(Edit: Here's my review of the sequel.)

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