February 25th, 2007

Book review: Variable Star

Today's book review is Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson.

First, to explain the unusual byline:  Heinlein left several pages of detailed notes for a novel that he never got around to writing.  In the Afterword, Spider relates that at a panel at Torcon, the existence of these notes were mentioned in a Heinlein panel which Spider was on.  Someone in the audience shouted that Spider should write it.  And to make a long story short, he did.  It's a little unclear just how much of the plot actually came from Heinlein, but the writing is Spider -- but with a plot that's a little more under control than sometimes.

The writing is quite engaging, and the characters we're supposed to like are likable.  There are characters we're not supposed to like, that I thought were being treated unfairly until the ending when they reveal that the hero's judgment of them was correct.  There's some interesting world building and some engaging detail.  But there are some big annoyances.  First and foremost, the main story hangs on something horrible beyond imagining, and using this event as an off-stage plot device just to whack the characters into some plot twists just seems wrong.  Second, the way things fall out from the horrible thing smells fairly strongly of deus ex machina -- things worked out just too conveniently.  The emotional roller coaster the plot drags the hero (and hopefully the reader) through involves such extremes of acceleration that he could easily be expected to be reduced to jelly.  And the key science is really not believable as science; we're treated to entirely too much "we just can't explain this magic so you'd understand it".  It's not hard science fiction; I wouldn't be so uncharitable as to say it's not science fiction at all, but some would.

Still, I did enjoy it.  It manages to end up as hopeful as it possibly could after the magnitude of the horrible, and reasonably satisfying.  But there's enough to dislike that I'm sure a lot of people will hate it, enough that I'm a little uncomfortable recommending it.  If you're a Spider fan, you'll be fine with it; if you're an old school Heinlein fan, you may have more trouble.  I think I'll give it an 8 out of 10.

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As the house crumbles

One other thing of note today; when I got home, fortunately as it turns out with an hour of daylight to go, I saw that a big chunk of fascia from my garage was dangling down.  Having a little time and daylight, I dragged out the ladder and nailed it back up, but really, the whole front edge of the garage needs to be rebuilt properly.  The fascia boards are rotted, the metal soffit plates have mostly fallen out, the gutters came off a while back.  Unfortunately, really fixing it is well beyond anything I've ever done on my own; I need to find someone who will work on it for me.  Just another thing that I can't possibly fit into my schedule, and that I won't have the money to deal with for years at the rate I'm going.  But I really didn't mean to be whining in this post, the reason I posted it was the feeling of satisfaction that I got for actually getting my ass up on the ladder and doing the level of patch that I could do right now with the tools, materials, and knowledge I actually have.