Moon - Trading in Danger / Marque and Reprisal

February 16, 2005

Catch-up book blogging. I read these in early January.

Elizabeth Moon - Trading in danger
New York : Ballantine Books, 2003.

Elizabeth Moon - Marque and Reprisal
New York : Random House, 2004.

Space opera. Well done. We follow a young officer cadet from a space merchant family as she is busted out of the space academy for mistakenly trusting an inferior, is given command of an old ship on its way to the breakers (with the entire family company fully expecting her to take it away, start trading on her own, and make an entrepeneur of herself), and gets involved in intersteller invasion, piracy, and commercial warfare.

The good - we have a compelling heroine, trying to figure out what her _real_ strong and weak abilities are, basically competent at what she does, and with a good mix of heroic traits and, well, moral weaknesses. She discovers one of her big moral failings towards the end of the first book. I won't spoil it here.

The plotting, especially in the second book, has a few holes - basically we are asked to believe in a space pirate who is both anonymous and capable of casually instilling fear and intimidation over a phone line. Sorry, pick one.

Moon started out writing fantasy, with the spectacular Deed of Paksenarrian, but has since shifted to space opera. She tends to work out a future society, use that to dig into a problem - what would happen if - and then write a series of fun fast-paced space opera while digging around the corners of that question. In her previous space opera featuring Heris Serrano (highly recommended) the question was "how does massive life-extension change a society?" "What happens if it is threatened?"

In her new series she explores the implications of having a computer in your head. Implants are common. People use them to store information, to provide extra calculating capacity, and as we see in the second book, to do more. They can be stolen - these are things that plug into a socket at the back of your neck. They can be hacked, although Moon does not spend much time on that scenario. How does it change things if, for example, the head of a corporation can give the family implant to his successor? What does it do for institutional memory if new hires are given access to, in her case, centuries of "this is how we did it last time"? One thing she points out is that it makes you lazy - if you can look it up, why think? And so she posits that military cadets must be trained to work without an implant - which is useful when her heroine has to do the same out in the reaches of space.

One of science fiction's strengths is its ability to be used as a "what if" tool. If this trend or that trend continues, "if this goes on," then what might happen. It gives an opportunity to isolate one aspect of a changing world and explore the implications of that idea or change. These were quite entertaining. They also got me thinking about some of the barely-anticipated side effects of miniaturization and the internet. Her implants are nowhere near possible. But give me a budget and a couple of engineers and I could build you a pair of eyeglasses, with internal screens, an eye-ball/blinker mouse control, a cell-phone, and an internet connection. They would be ugly heavy things with 2005 tech, but small is just a question of time and money. Would you want to have Google on hand, email on hand, instant messaging on hand, no matter where you were, just by blinking twice?

Moon is at her best when doing a few things - giving an insider's account of a military organization (former Marine captain), writing action sequences, and looking at the social consequences of technological change. I am curious to see if she will have a third book in the series - towards the end of the second she was getting a little Monty Haul (gee, its fun to give toys to the characters. I wonder what they will do with this one?

Posted by Red Ted at February 16, 2005 06:27 AM
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