Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hard Contact by Karen Traviss

Note: I keep holding onto posts because I can't find the time to edit. I apologize in advance for any errors, but this one has a New Year's reference and darn it! it's already the 11th :p.

If the measure of a good book is how little you notice of the world around you when reading, then this is a great read. I'm almost at the end and in the middle of a frantic battle when I hear 4-3-2. I was watching for the ball to drop in New York City on New Year's and reading while waiting. I almost missed it. At 2, I glanced up and saw the final point when 2006 lights up. Now that's what I call absorbed...and I'm one of those hyper-aware folks who rarely lets down my guard.

Anyway, to begin at the beginning, Hard Contact -- A Star Wars Republican Commando book. Not really my normal run of the mill reading, not so much because I think it is less worthy, but because I'm not involved in the universe.

When I was very young and in Girl Scouts, our troop leader came up with a bootleg copy of Star Wars shortly after it was released. I was overseas so there was no chance to join in the fervor that got Star Wars its cult following. And to make matters worse ;), my mom showed up early to pick me up, making me miss the end.

No, I am not into the Star Wars universe. I've seen all the movies now with the exception of Revenge of the Sith. I appreciate the originals for what they did to movie producing, but I think Serenity is a far better movie.

So, we come back to why I'm reading this book. The author actually asked me to directly. (Excuse the moment of chills :D.) I was so impressed by Karen Traviss's first and second books that I did something I've never done before. I wrote to the author...someone I didn't know and had no frame of reference besides my enjoyment of her books. She asked that I read the Star Wars novel because she felt she had made some significant writing growth with Hard Contact and thought many people (myself included) would dismiss it because it is a media tie-in.

Okay, so I killed two birds with one stone. My boys absolutely love Star Wars. So I got Hard Contact for my youngest (who wrote THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF JACOB to make sure I didn't forget who really owned it ;)). Both the boys read it and enjoyed the book, but it took me a bit to get to it, not for any other reason than that my shelves are too full of books in waiting.

And now, with that long (but interesting, I hope) history, we get to my thoughts about the book in specific:

I would agree with Karen that Hard Contact shows some maturation of her talent. The people and how they interacted was stronger than City of Pearl and Crossing the Line. I thought she really made the inherent conflict with the concept of a clone army vivid and personal in a way I hadn't expected. Her clones are not resistant at all. They accept the limits of their lives and are happy to serve not in a brainwashed way but actually in a logical, think it through, life with purpose way. They have more in common with a (honest) cult leader than with the cult followers. Their outlook, despite having seen their brothers (literal and emotional) torn apart and thrown away as expendable, is compelling and understandable, making them incredibly believable characters. They have the kind of charismatic absorption that draws in those around them and makes others stronger for the acquaintance, something I would never have expected in clones bred literally to fight hard and die young, whether or not they survived.

As you might have guessed, I had few troubles with the fact that this was a Star Wars novel. There were a few things I thought might be known to "real" fans that I was missing, but I quizzed my boys (little know-it-alls ;)) and they said no. The characters are definitely the strength in this novel. The overemphasis on gear is something I'm guessing comes from the framework of the tie-in, but even so it was well enough integrated into the book and the characters that it only made them stronger. At one point, one of the non-clone characters actually calls them on their overuse of acronyms and I was so there ;).

Now here's the bit I can't figure out if it was a consequence of the tie-in or not. What drew me to Karen's other books was the true sense of place and the way she made something so alien as real and tangible as the computer in front of me. This is largely absent from Hard Contact. At first I thought it was because every true fan would know Quillura and so grounding us in the place would be overkill, but my boys (who maybe missed that part of the series?) didn't know it. The people they came in contact with were largely described and the landscape got its time in so this is not necessarily a matter of clear fact but rather gut level feeling. In Crossing the Line, I felt a part of the place. I could look across the landscape and know where I was. This sense was absent from Hard Contact for me. It didn't make the book any less enjoyable, but this book didn't provide the YES I get from the other two. This book didn't offer me the sociological SF perspective I find so rare and so appealing.

So, all this means to me is that when Karen pulls in her expanded people writing skills with her world building skills, that novel is just going to blow me away :). Honestly, I think some of the people who didn't click as well with the first two books will understand what I saw in them better when reading Hard Contact. The people bit is what most people glom onto and Karen has definitely grown in that aspect. Give her a try if you haven't already. I doubt you'll be sorry :D. If she continues to grow as she has with this book, I fully expect to be stunned and thrilled for years to come.


Maripat said...

I think Serenity is a far better movie too.

Rose DesRochers said...

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