The Serrano Connection: Omnibus Two by Elizabeth Moon

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The Serrano Connection: Omnibus Two by Elizabeth Moon

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Two novels brought together, in a series of feminist (or at least feminine) science fiction, that are rich in small detail, and clunky in grander themes.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 832 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841494852

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In some quarter of a future galaxy, Esmay Suiza is up for a court-martial, for reasons I won't go into. The result means she goes to her home planet Altiplano for a while, to interact with the large clan and social strictures she thought she had escaped a long time ago. What with a large family gathering, and her alone-time at the end of a long horse ride, the reader may forget he or she is reading science fiction, were it not for the ugly front cover of a soldier with her hi-tech helmet.

Nor is this the Edenic pause before the storm, as for one there's a huge, deep family secret to resolve. And when she leaves to go back to work she does not exactly enter the fray of operatic space wars either - but ends up having to learn her work from the ground up on a DRS - a Deepspace Repair Ship, one of many people dealing with the huge craft that acts as a galactic break-down and rescue service.

In another quarter of the same galaxy, a gang of workers get the contract to refit elements of the same ship. They need the money to invest in a rejuv - itself a political hot potato, the new ability to create a near-immortal human being, with all that the population growth that would affect such agrarian societies as Altiplano.

Is their contract what it seems? Are they? Has someone got it in for Esmay?

This is the set-up for the first part of this book, which once existed as books four and five in a seven-volume opus. Obviously parts one to three have been anthologised together recently, and just in case the ending of those is a surprise to that book I kept the reason for the court-marshal to myself - just one way in which publishers' publicists try to make it awkward for us humble reviewers.

The book does well to immerse the character in the realm of a rookie on a huge craft, surviving with some intelligence in the military mindset but on the whole rather nameless and faceless. Nor is it a standard sci-fi war machine; the empire it serves seems quite amenable, and the Fleet personnel may have a majority of females. You're in a rather different sci-fi world, one which is quite enjoyable, but you might well wish for a bit less of the humdrum that Esmay has to engage in reaching us.

Luckily there is something for the DRS to be involved with - something that borrows a little too heavily from Greek mythology, but the drama is good enough to forget any mundanity and involve you in the space opera as opposed to the soap opera.

Unfortunately the soap is back at the beginning of the second half of this book, in the Rules of Engagement novel. The first chapters are pure romance, with a teenage fiction approach to the snooty but misread rich beauty with the important father, and the jealousy her presence results in. When the science fiction mode is engaged again, this story is also rather less of interest - the main plot bears too many resemblances to feminist and women's science fiction of the past few decades, too pointedly uses the future to refer to the recent past, and many subplots (or what appear as such) are given too much importance for my taste. I can see this one pitched at twelve year old girls, but not so the first, unless I missed something.

A lot of the flaws are down to what Moon is trying to do - put a unique, female aspect on space opera, which resolves around the influence of the Serrano family, among others. The influence boils down to too many life lessons for the female protagonists, which do not appear preachy, but life lessons they are, and as a result a lot of the books appear both too passive to be good science fiction, and too passé.

There will be those who appreciate more the subtle feminine side to the fiction. I won't go as far as to say this is down to Moon's being female, I'm sure she's a good enough writer to approach much from practically any stance, but there is a sensibility that is unusual here. It comes as no surprise to read she is ex-military herself, and some details (a fondness for horses and rock-climbing, perhaps) may well be autobiographical.

Elsewhere, there are enough recurring dynasties to forge a Dune-style epic from the whole cycle of seven books, but I don't get the impression that that has been achieved. If there is a message, an overwhelming plot surrounding the Serrano family, it rests in the other five parts of the story.

It's both a good and bad thing that the whole world has been thought out to such a minute detail. The social craft, the etiquette of apologising or not in the military and whom to, so much of how people live has been thought of - and then shown us in almost real time. The far-reaching galaxy, with FTL transport, and whatnot, has been built up from the nuts and bolts, but there are too many times when the characters have to get those girders, jewjaws and knowledge in the right place, again diverting us from a better narrative. Too much of the future will take too much time, if this is to be believed.

I would recommend the series (and, obviously, for you to start at the beginning, and not here) to anyone interested in a less gung-ho approach to a militaristic future. But remain aware - that softly-softly approach may have leached from the plot to the narration a little too much for your liking.

I would still like to thank the publishers for sending the Bookbag a copy to sample, but I have to tell someone that "a while" does exist as a phrase, and should not be one word so often incorrectly. We also have a review of The Serrano Succession by Elizabeth Moon.

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