With the name "Saga", I expected Vaughan's latest to be epic, sprawling, and insufferably stuffy. Over-earnest. Gone with the Wind and Star Wars and Ben Hur and the Iliad.
What I found instead is something that--while still with the potential to be epic--is accessible, sardonically funny, and ENDLESSLY creative. Magic-wielding people with all manner of horns warring against tech-wielding people with all manner of wings. A noble class of human-robot hybrids with old-fashioned tube-TVs for heads. (Vaughan uses the screens to wonderful emotive effect.) People who are just giant heads with legs, a large cat that can tell when people are lying, a sarcastic dead teenager who's a floating torso, and the kinds of orgies that you can only get by inventing stuff like this. And that's the tip of the iceberg.
It's not poetry but it is wonderfully well-written with lots of deliciously hard science. Haldeman uses the time dilation to envision over 1000 years of social evolution from a more or less modern perspective. It's absorbing.
In the early stages of the war, it's mentioned in passing that casual sex among the male and female troops is all but mandatory. Which was jarring until I considered that within the parameters of the story, STDs were not a concern, pregnancy was impossible, and there was no stigma, no slut-shaming. Why WOULDN'T the hormone-filled not-long-for-this-world rank and file get busy at every opportunity?
A few decades later, the Earth government is pushing homosexuality HARD as a means of population control. A third of the planet is gay. Crime is at an all time high but at least straight-gay relations have never been better.
A few more centuries pass and not only is everyone gay (save the unusually long-lived protagonist and a few "uncurables") but childbirth and parenthood have been entirely replaced with laboratory "quickening" and creche government-raising. Those who can't let go of their heterosexuality are institutionalized for life, as are those who exhibit "sociopathy" by refusing to volunteer for combat when asked. The protagonist is referred to as the "old queer" by resentful subordinates and his fellow officers magnanimously allow that it's not his fault he's straight. "Besides" says one, "it's not like you're eating babies." So generous. Shades of White Man's Burden here, addressing social injustice by simply reversing it and waving it around. It's effective.
Forever War is riddled with antiwar and antimilitary sentiment; impressively, Haldeman is able to pull this off without being preachy or reductive. He just tells a smart, thoughtful story and the message shines through. Awesome book.
Standard issue Dresden Files. The wise-assery is funny and the geek culture references are excellent:
"I've had worse. Only a flesh wound."
"Yeah, 'Tis but a scratch, come on ya pansy!'"
"Oh. You weren't quoting the movie."
"Nicodemus still has it."
Sigh. "Never mind."
Butcher is beginning to bog his characters down in burdensome nobility. A holy righteousness, albeit a sarcastic, juvenile holy righteousness. I miss the days when Dresden would just nuke the bad guys. Hey, they deserved it. Nowadays he spends way to much time trying to REDEEM them. Urk.
They expand on the exploration of the human capacity for bigotry, short-sightedness and destructiveness in dealing with man's treatment of trolls, a big hairy gentle and supremely useful neighbor species.
Like the previous book, this one ends with a massive disaster that promises more to come.
One thing stood out to me, partly--and paradoxically--by not standing out. The setting is roughly Napoleonic in terms of technological and social/political development, not the best of times for women in the real world. In Adro, women hold plenty of power: they are generals, colonels, captains and sergeants in the army, they are heads of institutions and political factions, they are mages and "special forces" operatives. And within the context of the story this fact is utterly unremarkable. No one notices that women are in power because why wouldn't they be? It's just neat to see a merit-based power structure that isn't obnoxiously self-aware.
Same serviceable level of writing as in Volume 1. While there's certainly a lot to be said for a fast moving, well-crafted war adventure like this, I find myself yearning for the depth, richness, and insight of KJ Parker's Engineer trilogy. McClellan almost captures that but falls short.