Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What I'm Reading: Wess'har series

While most of the dorky and nerdy things that I do are relating to movies or tv shows, I have recently expanded into 'real' sci-fi books. Note that I'm not counting all the Star Wars books I've read as 'real' sci-fi books since they are only in existence thanks to George Lucas' movies. I, as usual, have a roundabout way that I got introduced to these books. It was (surprise) due to Star Wars. The books I'm reading are the Wess'har series written by my personal favorite, Karen Traviss. And, in case it is not well known, Karen Traviss is my favorite because she wrote the Star Wars: Republic Commando series and a number of the Legacy of the Force books, and a Clone Wars novel or two. Thanks to my love of those Star Wars books I decided to branch out into her other stories and start the Wess'har series.

I have been getting my latest Karen Traviss fix thanks to my local library, and I have the $.72+ bill to prove it. I made the mistake of getting the first and second books out at the end of October, right before the start of NaNo. Big mistake. Oh well. I finally had enough time to make it through the first one and I just finished off the second one Saturday night. I think I put my request for the third book in too late. I'm hoping it won't be more than a week before it comes in.

I'll admit that it took me a little while to switch gears (no pun intended Gearsheads) from Star Wars to be able to understand the new world Karen Traviss was creating in the first Wess'har book, City of Pearl. Since this is my first real sci-fi novel it took me a few chapters to get into the story, and I had a number of times where I would start the first two chapters, put the book down and then not go near it again for days or weeks. Then after reading them for at least the third time, something clicked and I had a better handle on what world (or worlds) this  story was set in, and from then on I was able to more easily go through it.

As usual Karen Traviss does a great job of presenting a wide variety of characters, both alien and human. Her aliens at times really are exactly that- alien in the sense that it is difficult to understand where they are coming from and other times you sympathize more with the aliens than with the humans. In this world humans are even more messed up than they are in our known time stream, and even though they often seem more extreme it doesn't seem like her humans on Earth are that far off from what we are already becoming. It's a disturbing thing to think about and yet makes for a great anchor in the story. What better way to remind readers that not only is her story taking place in the future but to be careful of how things change in our real world than to present scenarios that are actually plausible?

One of the other 'scary' things about her books that I actually really love is how when the humans start doing typical human things like murder, being selfish or greedy it's easy to sit there reading and think "yes, that's exactly how humans are" and then feel ashamed about it. Don't read this series if you're looking for a reason to enjoy being a human. Now, don't get me wrong, there are humans in her stories that are admirable and brave and all the good qualities that we like in our heroes, but the majority of humans are greedy, selfish, thoughtless and stupid. Maybe that's the cop and criminal justice part of me speaking, but any time in the stories one of the aliens floats the idea of just vaping all the humans in the area to send a message, a big part of me thinks that it's the best idea for them. That's not to say that I advocate human genocide, but reading her books makes me think that aliens worlds and even some of the creatures on our world that are endangered or extinct because of humans wouldn't be better off if we were to not be around anymore.

On a cheerier note, one of the fun things that I enjoyed about reading the first book, City of Pearl, was that the humans on the ship that traveled to the alien world seemed to split into two groups the way high school kids separate into the cool kids and the not cool kids. Except on their ship they split into the military personnel and the scientists. The leader of the military personnel, Shan Frankland, was an ex-cop on Earth and retained all of her police training especially when dealing with the military personnel. The scientists all kept to themselves because they felt persecuted by the military people because they didn't understand their need to go and research things on the planet and collect samples learn as much as possible about the planet while they were there. The reason I liked this dynamic so much was because I could whole-heartedly sympathize with both sides. Being a former biochemistry major I knew exactly how the scientists felt and the way they viewed their visit to the alien planet. And yet because I'm now a criminal justice major intent on becoming a police officer, I knew exactly how Shan Frankland and her military people felt about being on the planet. It all came down to safety and logistics with them and they couldn't understand why the scientists felt they needed to go out and collect samples even at the cost of their own safety. The fact that she can balance so realistically those two aspects in her book is just another reason why I love Karen Traviss' writing.

Anyway, that's about all I have for now, and hopefully the third book will come in to the library soon. I resorted to reading the first few pages on using their Look Inside feature. It wasn't as satisfying as being able to read the whole book whenever I want...

Now that I'm making my way into the big wide world of science fiction books, can anyone recommend other books or series for me to try? I'm open to any and all suggestions!

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