February BOTM: City of Pearl by Karen Traviss

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Kamakhya, Feb 1, 2005.

  1. Kamakhya

    Kamakhya Seeker of Stuff

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    It's not quite midnight here on the Left Coast of the US, but we might as well get the party started. :)

    We seem to do a lot of first books by new authors here, for better or for worse. This one seemed to be for the better for me. I liked it so much, that I went out and bought the second in the trilogy as soon as I finished City of Pearl.

    I thought there was a good plot line and some believable characters. What I didn't like was the sort of heavy handed ideology. While I tended to agree with the ideology, it seemed a bit too much even for my tastes. However, it did seem to advance the story, at least in terms of understanding the aliens.

    At any rate, I will try and post more when I have some more time to reflect on the story.

    What did you think?
     
  2. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    Good grief. The month has almost started and I have yet to start reading. I better get on the ball. By the way the title of the thread you used is 'March BOTM' , but its really the February BOTM. We are still voting on March.
     
  3. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I have other thoughts, but I would just like to shoot in that I thought that all of the save-the-earth stuff was pretty well-presented and not too heavy at all. Then again, it's only been a few short months since I read Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper for the fantasy group, who lays it on way too thick, so maybe it's all about perspective.

    I have other thoughts, but just got home and don't feellike typing more right now.
     
  4. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Anybody who has read my review knows how impressed I was with this novel. I really admired Shan Frankland's chararacter and enjoyed reading her story. I thought the interaction between all of the cultures was very engaging and very thought-provoking.

    I felt on the whole the entire novel was very polished, and much more even than many a first novel.
     
  5. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    I'll start by reposting my review from January:

    "I finished reading "City of Pearl" by Karen Traviss over the weekend. I think this will be a book club book soon, but so many people here were interested in it that I had to give it a go. I very much enjoyed it, and I will be reading the next one, but I did find it flawed.

    1) Good alien, bad alien. This is a cliche that is admittedly hard to eliminate from SF writing, but the wess'har are pretty much all good environmentalists, the isenj are all bad exploiters and the besser'ej(?) are pretty much just passive victims.
    2) Good Marines, Bad scientists. The scientists all act in an irrational and xenophobic way that makes no sense to me at all. Apparently they are all in thrall to evil corporations and greed makes them selfish. They have no ethics and are all one-dimensional characters. On the other hand the armed forces on the expedition are all rational, willing to deal with the aliens and their regulations and perfectly fine with abandoning the interests of their own species. This goes against stereotype, which is cool, but introduces a new stereotype that makes no sense.

    On the other hand, there were great strong female characters, the alien main character was really interesting and the plot moved well. I can't say I agree totally with the political stance it takes, but that didn't detract from enjoying the book as a whole."
     
  6. Kamakhya

    Kamakhya Seeker of Stuff

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    Thanks for the correction. It appears that someone beat me to the fix. :)
     
  7. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    Well this thread seems a little quiet so I will post, even though I am still reading. In fact for some reason I find it very easy to put the book down, yet I like what I have read so far. Strange.

    I am reminded of two things so far. One is CJ Cherryh - this seems like a type of book she would have written. The other is that with the " ' " in the names and something actually being " 'Har ", it reminds me of Walter Hunt's series that started with Dark Wing . I am at the point where I still don't know what Aras is -- but I am wondering if he/she/it is bird-like.

    I was a bit confused about the gorilla, and where it was, and if it was a real gorilla. They seemed to be in suits on Mars and floating around, but I wasn't sure if they were in hardsuits in vacuume or if they had put some type of atmosphere on Mars.

    I also liked the idea of a suppressed briefing. Only knowing what you need to when you need to. Cool Idea.

    Well I will go back to reading now.
     
  8. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    I'm sorry, I haven't read this book. I just wanted to make sure that science fiction fans who never go to the fantasy section realise that their book of the month is Jeff Vandermeer's Veniss Underground. So naturally, there is a bit of sf type discussion going on there since VU blends, sf, horror and fantasy.
     
  9. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    Another quick bit about this one:

    I cringed when I first read about the suppressed briefing. With a first-time author, pulling something like a suppressed briefing seemed like it was a total setup for a plot coupon. "I have no other way to move the story ahead, so I'll just pop in some new info whenever I need it." I was pleasantly surprised that that wasn't the case, though I was a little disappointed by how small a part the briefing actually played after all the setup for it.

    I agree with the good/bad slant that Archren points out...it is a little simple and tired. Though to really flesh out the races and shade them in more ways would have taken more time, which could have affected the narrative even more negatively than the stereotype.

    The book does have a real set-up feel to it. While I enjoyed the whole of it, there really wasn't that much of a plot. It seemed more like a prelude to the war she is setting up for the next books.
     
  10. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    One thing I find interesting is that the clearly "Good" aliens, the wess'har have no problem with genocide of intelligent species. She seems to take the view that killing innocents is just fine as long as they are of the same species that is doing something bad to even more "innocent" species, like the squid people.

    How do people feel about that sort of ethical statement?
     
  11. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    I finally finished the book. I liked it, but it took me a while to get into it. I kept putting it down.

    I liked the main character and the idea that she was a cop. I thought the Supressed Briefing was a wonderful idea and I like how it was used. I also wonder if we and Shan really know everything about it, and if it will in some way come back to control her (or try to) later.

    I liked Aras, and thought he was a very interesting alien and a somewhat sympathetic mass-murderer. The parasite was also interesting, and of course making it contagious kept them from becoming super-heroes who could survive any damage or danger. I still have no idea what he or his un-colonized people look like.

    I thought the colony was a bit odd. They seemed to go about their business with so little stress. Not only was the environment tough, but Aras could have wiped them out at any moment. I realize they had 'god' and all, but still you would expect to see some kind of social stress resulting from all that tension. Also not sure how casting off their troublemakers to die is actually following their religious teaching. If they are for a more old testament interpretation then why are they not happy with the destruction wrought by Aras ? I also thought there should have been more contact between the colonists and the Squid.

    The Squid beached themselves to explore the air above, surely that same spirit of adventure would make them interested in the colony. And in all that time someone at the colony must have been curious about them. Seems a connection that could have been fleshed out a bit more. I thought they were very cool and interesting aliens.

    I also am not sure how Aras' people end up, bascially acting with such religious zeal, protecting the Squid, and preventing the spread of the parasite. That sort of crusading seems to be against the pragmatic and matter-of-fact behavior and belief that the author says they have. I can see them not wanting the Insects to bother them on their world, or on any world they land on, but I don't see where they looked down from their moon and said that is our business. Or where they thought it was their job to save the universe from the parasite. They seem to echo the human colony in a secular religion that only seems to be fueled by ecology, but is more about power and control.

    It seems the author had a bit of a problem with that part of the story. They said they were intervening to not only save the Squid, but to prevent the spread of the parasite, but it comes out later in the story that they only found out about the parasite once they had already intervened. Sort of chicken and egg problem.

    I thought the level of ecological non-interference was not really believable in the story. Aras' people had to have had some impact on their environment when they were still developing. I don't think you can develop a civilization without some impact. Once they reached a certain level it makes sense for them to minimize it, and make a virtue of non-impact. I can even see many of their rules for the colony and the human camp -- but I think as an evolved race that had gone through it, they would have realized it was impossible for them to expect humans to live as impact free as they did.

    I thought it was an interesting look at how we grant importance to those most like us, and it slides away the further out you get, so that if you are a Squid or an Insect you are fair game. I also thought it was very true and applies not just to us and animals, but to us and other people.

    I liked the human camp and the soldiers and thought the scientists would probably have been tough to control. Though that whole group and the colonists were often rendered as stereotypes for the group they were representing. I thought the pregnant one and the journalist were probably the best of the characters outside Shan and Aras.

    I hated that she kept calling the scientists 'payload'. She seemed to be much more sympathetic towards those who have embraced authority (police/military) or god than those who are enamoured of science or politics. She also had the journalist come off rather well.

    I have to wonder what Perreault was thinking, in terms of Shan doing something important for her government, when she sent Shan out and knew it would be at least 300 years before she could get back. I suspect that will also be a surprise twist down the road.

    I am not sure that I buy the whole gene bank as the motivator for the visit by the humans, or the reason that the matriarchs allowed the colony to survive. The old stuff in the gene banks, if ever planted back home, would probably be killed by the diseases that developed to prey on their successors. And Aras could have taken the gene bank, which he did in the end, and then killed all the human colonists, and left the Squids alone on their world.

    Not sure I think it is a good thing for Shan to be infected. It seems a bit too cliched and set the story in a rather predictable course. It will be interesting to see what she does, and if she can redeem it.

    All in all it was a good book, and I did enjoy it. While I can see there are several messages in the story, and though they are not subtle, I also don't feel hit over the head with them, either. I have the sequel and will read it as soon as I can schedule it.
     
  12. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I though Shan was a very reliable protagonist. I trusted her, her feelings and her instincts. She was strong, but not invulnerable - ultimately, she was believable.

    Aras reminded me of another character, who for the life of me, I can't think of right now. He was both endearing and frustrating.

    I thought it interesting how strong the religous beliefs were in the human colony. It always interests me to see how belief systems are portrayed in future sf.
     
  13. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    Shan was really the saving grace of the novel for me. She was really well written. I'm still not sure that the way the human colonists was written was believable though. In all that time there were no schisms, no emotional overriding of their rules? Maybe the situational stress and (relatively) short time period meant that they hadn't had too many differences yet.
     
  14. Kamakhya

    Kamakhya Seeker of Stuff

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    I thought the colony was spot on. They spent so much time just trying to survive in a hostile and alien environement, light years from old earth, that there wasn't time or energy for schisms and infighting.

    Shan was a great charachter. It was because of her that I wanted to read the sequel. The sequel was in some ways even better than City of Pearl. It fleshes out a lot of the unanswered questions of City, like the relationship between the different alien species and the nature of Aras' people. Ficus, it does indeed answer many of the issues you raised with Pearl.
     
  15. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I can see your point on this, but I think their faith to their religion is what helped them to get through any such conflict. They also had Aras as a sort of protector and powerful force.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2005
  16. minibirte

    minibirte New Member

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    I just finished the book and I relly liked it. I don't have much to add to what has been said before.

    What I found unbelievable was the caanat (spelled wrong?). I don't think that gene transfer between species that evolved totally independantly from one another is possible (with yielding functional gene products). The reason is, that even if the aliens use the same genetic code as we do, this still makes it highly improbable that the identical sequence bits always code for the same aminoacids in humans and wess'har.

    The idea of having only corporation owned crops left in the future is pretty scary, but I can see how that might happen.

    I'm really curious to see what will happen next.
     
  17. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    I was reading the brief author bio at the back of the book and I noticed that Ms. Traviss was a journalist and was closely involved in the Royal Marines (although I forget now if she was enlisted at one pont or embedded as a reporter at one point or both). Do you think that these personal experiences influenced the very sympathetic portrayals of the military characters and the journalist, particularly when combined with the portrayals of the scientists as unethical idiots?

    I wonder if she had any direct experiences with people like the religious settlers that influenced that portrayal as well?

    Let me just say that if personal experience makes one more sympathetic to various characters that I hope she spends some time hanging around some research labs before writing too many more books in this series. :D (Although I'm sure I'm going to end up reading "Crossing the Line" before the end of the year. Shan really is a great character and I want to know what happens to her.)
     
  18. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I think it is impossible for anybody's life expereinces to NOT leave an indellible mark on what they write. I think aside from the one scientist who killed the alien, all of the characters are painted if not sympathetically, empathetically. When each character is on screen, Traviss makes you want to believe them. As impressed as I was with her characterization skills in City of Pearl Ms. Traviss' skills grow in the next volume.


    Did anybody get an Octavia Butler/Xenogenesis vibe from the book?
     
  19. LordBalthazar

    LordBalthazar Registered User

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    Well, you never know. I read David Brin's award-winning Startide Rising, expecting to be blown away, only to come away disappointed. And then I picked up Karen Traviss's City of Pearl, not expecting much from a first-time effort, only to end up more than pleasantly surprised by what turned out to be a deftly written novel peopled by very richly detailed, very believable characters. I thought Traviss did a wonderful job of conveying her "message" in a subtle and entertaining manner, and did see some elements of the story (ie. the various corporations control of seed licensing) as very scary and very possible developments of contemporary corporate strategy.

    My two problems I had with the novel stemmed from what I felt were narrative contrivances. Unlike some, I didn't like the delayed memory. Logically, what purpose did it serve other than to allow the author to hold back on information until it could better serve the plot? In much the same way, I had to wonder why Aras didn't tell Shan he had infected her from the moment she woke up? Why keep it from her as she would find out sooner or later? Again, it felt like a contrivance designed to hold back information until it could be later released for a more effective impact.

    Still, lots and lots to like in this novel. I'll definitely be picking up the sequel.