Curiously nerdy posts.
I did a lot of reading over the holiday, due to not having work and also being away from my beloved gaming PC. So I should have quite a bit to talk about for a while.
I’ve been on a bit of a sci-fi kick of late. I’ve kind of been craving a hot new fantasy novel to read, but nothing’s really been catching my eye lately on that market, so I’ve just been catching up on potentially interesting looking novels in the genre, plus a few picks from my wife’s family.
A while back, I picked up Crossover, by Joel Shepherd.
The blurb reads like this:
Crossover is the first novel in a series which follows the adventures of Cassandra Kresnov, an artificial person, or android, created by the League, one side of an interstellar war against the more powerful, conservative Federation. Cassandra is an experimental design — more intelligent, more creative, and far more dangerous than any that have preceded her. But with her intellect come questions, and a moral awakening. She deserts the League and heads incognito into the space of her former enemy, the Federation, in search of a new life.
Her chosen world is Callay, and its enormous, decadent capital metropolis of Tanusha, where the concerns of the war are literally and figuratively so many light years away. But the war between the League and the Federation was ideological as much as political, with much of that ideological dispute regarding the very existence of artificial sentience and the rules that govern its creation. Cassandra discovers that even in Tanusha, the powerful entities of this bloody conflict have wound their tentacles. Many in the League and the Federation have cause to want her dead, and Cassandra’s history, inevitably, catches up with her.
Cassandra finds herself at the mercy of a society whose values preclude her own right even to exist. But her presence in Tanusha reveals other fault lines, and when Federal agents attempt to assassinate the Callayan president, she finds herself thrust into the service of her former enemies, using her lethal skills to attempt to protect her former enemies from forces beyond their ability to control. As she struggles for her place and survival in a new world, Cassandra must forge new friendships with old enemies, while attempting to confront the most disturbing and deadly realities of her own existence.
This concept had me hooked immediately. You’ve got all the ingredients for a very interesting, rewarding sci-fi series here, which is something I’ve been looking for for a long time. I’d really like something sci-fi that’s consistently as fun and addictive as something written by Jim Butcher, or Simon R. Green. I know that’s asking a lot, especially considering that not only is writing an entertaining novel a challenge by itself, but also adding in the level of intelligent, thought provoking design that good sci-fi demands? I’ve been looking for a while for a reason.
Did I find what I was looking for with this novel? Well…
The attention to detail. What immediately strikes me about this book is the level of detail it pays to every little thing. The author puts a ton of effort into making his world a living, breathing one that actually feels like it’s made of hundreds of small moving parts, rather than a static stage for characters to do their thing on. It’s especially impressive because this is achieved in equal measure through both description and dialogue. It’s a nice trick when dialogue reveals a lot of detail, and still feels organic enough that I don’t feel like I’m slogging through exposition. You learn about the ideological differences between the League and Federation by way of people who’ve actually lived in them. You get an idea of what a regular life is in this universe from the characters themselves. It seems simple enough, but I’ve read and written enough to know that it isn’t.
Additionally, I really liked how it was explained why Cassandra is such an advanced model of android, from the obvious stuff like a higher model number, to little details like her trigger fingers being specially designed to fire guns accurately with minimal recoil. My favorite part about this example, in particular, is that this information is shared while she’s establishing herself as an individual not so different from a regular human being when it comes to thoughts and emotions. It’s amazingly efficient writing, and had me from the start.
This is how you build a concept from the ground up. I’m a fan of this.
The description. Attention to detail is often wasted without a flair for describing things, and fortunately, this book doesn’t come up short here either. Even as someone who doesn’t care as much about in-depth descriptions, I was impressed with how easy it was to picture where the characters were, and what they were looking at, at any given moment, whether they were riding in a flying limo, or walking through a busy, neon-filled shopping district. I really do appreciate it when this is done well, as it is really easy to get carried away with it at times.
The pacing. When you’re writing a novel, there’s a tightrope every author has to walk between description and forward movement. Too much movement without enough time to smell the roses (and describe them while you’re doing it), and some might complain that the novel isn’t descriptive enough for their imaginations to latch onto.
Crossover doesn’t have that problem. It has the exact inverse of that problem, which is just as big of an issue. There is no point in this book where major actions aren’t sandwiched and buffered by paragraphs (and sometimes even pages) of introspective thought. After a while, it just felt like the novel was hesitant to ever move forward. It drove me a little crazy at times. Sometimes in college, when I had dozens of books to read and not a lot of time to read them all, I’d often simply leap over any big block paragraphs to the next line of dialogue or actual action. This book actually made me resort to that old tactic. It was that rife with explicated thought.
The best example is actually close to the end of the book. Sandy sends a message to her pseudo-boss that she is going after the bad guys to end things, with or without his sanctioning. After TWO PAGES of hand-wringing explication on his thought process, he finally tells her to go ahead and do it. TWO PAGES. I really didn’t need that much to understand why he said what he said. The rest of the novel sort of sets it up.
Similar to what I said about The Hateful Eight, a good test of a book is how often you check to see where you’re at in the novel. By that point, I treated every page like a mile marker.
Sex, sex, sex, and more sex. Oh yeah, more sex after that. I do like sex, okay? I’m a red-blooded heterosexual male. I don’t even mind erotic fiction. Generally, my biggest problem with sex in books is that the authors aren’t nearly as good at writing it as they think they are. As a result, I often prefer the “heavily implied, but not shown” tactic to handle sex in novels.
This book has an interesting way of showing it, though. It doesn’t do any actually explicit sex scenes, but the characters talk about sex ALL of the time. It’s like Sex and the City with androids. I’d bet roughly 30-40% of Sandy’s dialogue and thoughts are about sex, and how horny she is, and how she’ll sleep with anyone because she’s got needs. I think I got the point of it after the first two times, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t stop coming. No pun intended.
Okay, maybe a little. Tee hee.
Although this novel is bursting with cool concepts, good ideas, and thoughtful philosophical questions, I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone simply because of the horrific pacing. It’s been said before, but bad pacing can damage even the best ideas. I guess I’ll keep looking for that series I want. If you’re reading this and HAVE found such a series, please let me know about it.
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