Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"The World Before" by Karen Traviss

>"What am I then?" asked Sergeant Bennett.

This sentence has become one of my favorite "first lines". It's a knockout, especially when followed by:

>"Am I still human?"

To reveal more would be to risk telling a plot spoiler. This book begins with a punch, and it is one of the reasons I recommend reading the series from the beginning.

All six of the wess'har war books in the series can stand alone. Not every series deserves to have all the books read in order of publication. This series, though, is worth reading all the way through from the beginning work, "The City of Pearl".

The third wess'har novel, "The World Before", continues to unfold the fascinating characters introduced in the first book, knitting their lives together in totally unexpected but satisfying ways and places.

Five alien societies live and rub shoulders in the wess'har war series, (humans included). They all have domestic and politicial problems, which are dwarfed by the secret: something so transforming of their worlds that obtaining or containing it becomes their top priority.

I like the plot twists in Karen's books more than nearly anything I've read, and I don't intend spoil the surprises for anyone else, so it becomes a challenge to convey the excitement of discovery, the pleasure of the tantalizing developments in this story.

Russell Letson, reviewing Karen's second book, "Crossing the Line" in Locus (2004), favorably compares Traviss to Le Guin, Nancy Kress and C.J. Cherryh, and others. I agree with him: Karen's writing is easily as entertaining, thought-provoking and skillful as any of the leading lights of Science Fiction today. To his list, I would add David Brin (the Uplift series), and S. L. Viehl. (Stardoc series), two of my personal favorites.

Looking for aliens that are truly alien and not just humans in funny costumes? Looking for unforgettable characters, in spite of (or is it because of) they're flaws? Looking for a plot you cannot see coming a mile away, but which is believable once it arrives?

The wess'har war books give all that and more. Just don't make the same mistake I did, but order all five of yours together. Because once you start reading, you won't be able to put them down. Since I only ordered the first two in paperback, and couldn't wait for the next three to be delivered, I ended up with those three in digital format. Now I'm usually agreeable with digital books, but these five novels are books I want to take places with me, read again when I go on vacation, handle and pop open and consider. Not so easy with digital. You've been cautioned.

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