Ringo - The Emerald Sea

August 16, 2004

John Ringo
The Emerald Sea

This is another stupid book. But I finished it.

One way to make sense of science fiction and fantasy is to break it down into people who take a technology and build a story around it and people who want to tell a story or achieve an effect and then make up a technology that will create their desired end state. The first is the tradition of classic hard science fiction - the heroic engineer exploring some aspect of orbital mechanics, for example - although it also applies to the "if this goes on" school of social science fiction. The second is more commonly associated with space opera. The author decides what social or mechanical roles the technology should serve, then works backwards to achieve it. So Pournelle and Niven wanted their Mote in God's Eye to be set in a galactic empire in a world that approximated the 19th century in the days after steam and before radio (or telegraph cables.) The fastest way to move information is by manned vessel, manned vessels have short legs because they need to refuel constantly, and the story moves from there.

Ringo falls into the latter school. He comes up with a setting or situation that he wants to write about, then jury-rigs his science so he can get there. In The Emerald Sea he appears to have the notion for a neo-medieval world, with science taking over as magic, in the context of a war between good and evil. So, he came up with psuedo-scientific rationales leading to a re-creation of many of the critters and dynamics of a really good D&D campaign from high school.

His basic mechanism for all this is that the future is a place of almost limitless resources. It is a world of nano-technology and genetic manipulation. It is a world where individuals can "transform" into other shapes - with the little-realized cost of freezing their emotional development at the age they were at when they first changed. So far, so good. But he then insists that, for example, dozens of sociopaths all transformed themselves into the same goofy ray-fish shape before being recruited by the bad guys after utopia falls apart.

That part challenges the reader's suspension of disbelief. I will buy the transforms - it is a core part of his story. I do not buy the sociology of the transformations. And so he loses me and I declare his book stupid.

It is stupid for other reasons as well. After spending two thirds of the book getting heros and villains to the neutral group both are trying to recruit, he lets the villains win the diplomatic exchange in a scant dozen pages of dialogue. The villains then cleverly followup on their diplomatic coup by attacking this same group of neutrals - a clearly obvious maneuver. Yep. This lets Ringo write up his fight sequences; it lets his heros be heroic; it leaves the reader wondering why and how things got this far.

So, I finished it. I doubt that I will ever spend real money for a Ringo book. I will probably look through the next in the series when it hits the library, but I might decide that I would be better served watching Gilligan's Island reruns.

Posted by Red Ted at August 16, 2004 08:48 AM | TrackBack
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