Lee, Sharon, and Steve Miller: (07) I Dare

At Boskone this past weekend, I picked up the latest Liaden book by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, I Dare. (I didn’t happen to meet the authors or hear them speak, though Chad did attend a panel they were on.) This concludes the “Agent of Change” sequence, picking up where Plan B left off.

I found this an enjoyable but slightly disappointing book. I should say that I read the Liaden books for the people: Shan, Miri, Val Con, Priscilla, Sheather, and all the rest are fabulous, vivid, living-and-breathing characters and I really like spending time with them. So, okay, I’ll swallow the happy coincidence that allows the dramatic big set-piece confrontation at the end, and the utter one-dimensional stupidity of the villains, and whatever. (However, I do object to the cliffhanger ending. I don’t mind life-goes-on endings, like Tigana‘s, and if the book had stopped just three pages earlier, it would have been fine. Throwing those pages in, though, when the next three books are going to be about other people, seemed gratuitous.) And yup, the lifemates thing still bothers me, but I was expecting that.

I think my real problem with the book is that it feels unbalanced. It largely splits its focus between Miri, Val Con, and the rest of the people on Lytaxin on the one hand, and Pat Rin on the other. Which is all well and good, but Pat Rin’s part of the story covers about six months from the opening to the climax, while the Lytaxin crowd’s covers four days—in what feels like about the same number of pages, though I admit I didn’t count. I’m happy to see these characters, but a lot of the Lytaxin stuff seemed not to advance the story that much, and the contrast with Pat Rin’s very busy life was striking.

Pat Rin’s part of the story, by itself, posed another balance (small “b”) problem for me. Don’t get me wrong; I was quite pleased to see Pat Rin take center stage. Gordy asked, way back [*] in Carpe Diem, “Then why’s he like that?” Shan’s response, “Well, I suppose, that like most of us, he’s not finished yet,” both indicates why I like Shan so much and why spending more time with Pat Rin was interesting. I happen to like becoming-human stories, which I think it’s fair to characterize this as. But part of Pat Rin’s becoming human is his falling in love, and his growing love affair—plus his lover—are just sketched. I don’t object to subtle love stories; at one level, that’s what The Last Hot Time is, after all. But it’s quite a contrast with the other Liaden stories, where the relationships and the characters are central and thoroughly developed.

Okay. Two more gripes and then I’m done. One is a gripe about the physical book, not the writing: the copy editing was just bad. Sure, I’m probably unusual in being bothered by random extra spaces between words and around punctuation, or curly quotation marks going the wrong way, or periods sometimes being inside quotes, sometimes outside; but I notice and it distracts me. The other is actually a rehash of one of my American Gods complaints: maybe Val Con can forgive what he learns on Lytaxin, but I found it morally repugnant and I’m both annoyed at the person who did it and at him for not being madder about it. (In the coincidence department, we learn in this book that another of Val Con’s nicknames is—Shadow.)

Hmm. If I’m complaining about balance, I should have spent more words talking about the things I liked, but they 1) require less explanation and 2) are mostly spoilers, anyway. Besides, even stretching this typing out over a few days (yay, backdating posts on Blogger Pro), my wrists are hurting. Overall, I did like it; I just didn’t love it the way I did some of the earlier Liaden books.

[*] Maybe someone out there can help me. In the following quote, what is the apostrophe before “way” standing for: “tucked all tidy and peaceful into a pretty little cave that was ‘way to small for them”? It’s not a usage I’ve come across before, and it’s used more than once in the book.

7 Comments

 Add your comment
  1. Rather late, but no-one else seems to have commented. The apostrophe would seem to imply a contraction of “away”. Given that Liaden tend to the grandiose in their manner of speech (I haven’t completed “I Dare” so forgive me if I’ve mis-attributed the snippet) the sense is of an archaism being vernacularised.

    There, two possible neologisms in a single sentence. My work is done here 🙂

    HTH HAND

  2. More belated comments…
    Throwing [the last pages of _I Dare_] in, though, when the next three books are going to be about other people, seemed gratuitous.)
    For the Liaden books, I don’t think it’s safe to assume that publication order = composition order. They’ve had every conceivable difficulty in finding publishers and keeping publishers, have self-published, have e-published serially, etc. This on top of the fact that the grand arc of the story was worked out between them long ago. I suspect that the stories in Local Custom and Scout’s Progress were written, at least in dense outline, before I Dare was begun. To the authors, those (plus Balance of Trade?) aren’t “the next three books” in the same way that they would be for a one-book-at-a-time writer, even in an ongoing series.
    And yup, the lifemates thing still bothers me, but I was expecting that.
    If I understand your hangup with “the lifemates thing”, it hinges on the idea that there is one unique perfect match out there somewhere — but I’m not sure where you’re getting that from, because I haven’t found anything in the text to indicate that there is only one potential lifemate for any given person. It’s clear that not everyone is “made for a wizard’s match”, but there’s no indication that those who are so capable only have one compatible potential partner. For me, that makes a big difference.
    Besides, there’s no hint of mystical match (so far!) in the lifemating between [SPOILER]…
    I think my real problem with the book is that it feels unbalanced. It largely splits its focus between Miri, Val Con, and the rest of the people on Lytaxin on the one hand, and Pat Rin on the other. Which is all well and good, but Pat Rin’s part of the story covers about six months from the opening to the climax, while the Lytaxin crowd’s covers four days

  3. As for the cliffhanger ending:
    1) Regardless of what publication or composition order is, it’s a rotten thing to do to your readers;
    2) Since they’re just now writing a parallel book (_Fledging_) to get them to a place where they can write the next book after _I Dare_, it hasn’t been composed.
    Lifemates: I was referring to the fact that wizards’ matches are literally two halves of the same soul, which I dislike; and are viewed in such a way that a character could think, without sarcasm, of people being “merely” in love.
    Copy-editing: Meisha Merlin. The Ace weren’t out at this point.

  4. 1) On cliffhangers, agreed in general. I didn’t find the “…it’s kind of complicated” to be much of a cliffhanger, though — no immediate obvious peril.
    Still, I do see your point. Such a small teaser could just as easily be the prologue to a later book. It’s not as though Korval fans don’t already have their faces pressed to the shop window.
    2) I was speculating that the authors might not have known what was going to be “the next book” at the time they submitted I Dare, and might even have expected it to be a direct sequel. I agree that they had not yet composed any direct sequels. From reading their blogs, I find that there has been far more weirdness and unpredictability in what they’ve been able to sell than I would have expected.
    (I could really wish they were financially set for life. The next book out, other than the pre-editing serialization of Fledgling, is going to be Duainfay, set in an entirely new fantasy universe along Faerie lines. Not what I was hoping for, though it may pleasantly surprise me.)
    Lifemates: if you get a chance someday, could you point to the “two halves of the same soul” reference? I don’t remember it, which is not to say it isn’t there plain as day. It’s also not clear to me that the description necessarily applies *before* the lifemating event; it might just be a description of the result.
    However, I do agree with you that comments about “merely in love” aren’t desirable, which is part of why I was happy to see a lifemating without psionic reinforcement. (Though what Lady Kareen must think about *that* breach of Code boggles the mind…)
    At any rate, I’m not trying to be argumentative or confrontational — I’d just had a rather different take on what was being said, and was curious how you had come to such a different understanding.

  5. Lifemates: I misremembered slightly. In _Scout’s Progress_ Daav asks the Tree if he is “formed as one-half of a wizard’s match,” and the comments from the Healer at the end about Aelliana’s pattern indicate to me that the match is intrinsic.

  6. Since there’s already a precedent for reviving this conversation after a long pause:
    I never read the Healer’s comments as saying anything more than that the match exists now. (It might be different if the Healer had seen Aelliana’s pattern before the link had already begun forming, as the “could have danced all night” scene shows us it had.)
    And Daav’s remark says only that he thinks (or has been told) that that’s how a wizard’s match works; he may be wrong.
    (Since ‘I Dare’, as you may know, there’s been that prequel set in the days of the first dramliz, when they still knew how the wizard’s match worked and what purpose it was created for. It’s not clear, though, to what extent the wizard’s match still works the same way; and after much thought I’m frankly not sure whether, if it did, that would make the whole situation better or worse.)

  7. Paul A.–yeah, I should really give those prequels a proper read and booklog them and all. I skimmed the Embiid versions but didn’t find that a good way to read and then never got around to finding a better copy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.