The Serrano Succession by Elizabeth Moon
The politics of the empire of great noble families is still up in arms about the newish medical practice of rejuv – is the drug process at fault, or poisoned, and how far-reaching are its effects on the military officers that have been able over the past generation or so to afford this anti-aging process?
The children and wives belonging to a horridly repressed cult rescued in the last book are still needing care, concern and counselling – and one man involved in the whole saga – Barin Serrano – is having to stump up a lot of the cost, despite being the hero of the retrieval mission. Meanwhile, the culprits behind the cult are now accused of having committed revenge by killing a major politician, causing great power upheavals.
And all that Esmay wants is to get married to Barin, which let’s face it has been on the cards for about six hundred pages, but there’s still political and social reasons for this to not be going smoothly. So it’s all pretty much condition normal in this soapy sci-fi saga, which delves through great levels of detail to tell its stories, in a relatively unique way, without ever exciting the pulse.
That at least is the start of Change of Command, which was volume six in the series, and is now the first half in this trilogy-closing example of these chunky and unwieldy tomes. Against the Odds features more of the same:- the military action from the first half gets resolved, if not everything else, and the marriage is still a major factor of concern, alongside a more sustained sense of drama.
I can appreciate the author trying to do a subtle, nuanced appreciation of a feminine-styled universe, where people consider their favourite horse, their fiancee and their hobbies just as much as they do the next battle engagement, but I still have problems with the approach taking as much effort to get through as it does. I can’t say the writing is bad at all – there are usually alerts when research is thrust down our throats for the sake of it, perhaps regarding terraforming, or the author drops into showing off regarding fencing, say, or some more invented element of her universe, and there are none of those present – but I just find myself up against the measured, leisurely style and depth of detail and characterisation that is used.
While the intelligence needed to create such an all-encompassing set of books is great, I still itched for the neighbouring Benignity or someone to come calling, and wipe most of the concerns of our protagonists away (“legal or social or religious matter(s)” as the book itself has it) that prevent the Families from interacting entirely satisfactorily (and hence satisfyingly) and so on.
This is hard sci-fi in as such as every particle of the society has been thought about – the various ways of subspace communication (and who can afford what method), the different computers, right up to what hundreds of years of Family history means for numerous interactions, but soft sci-fi in that it still resolves to tell the human story amidst all the hardware and politicking. Some of which I appreciated – it was quite a relief to drop the patchy resumption of play at the start of this book and have some concentrating on Esmay and Barin to do – others I found wishing to pass by quickly. Still, as with previous episodes, the Stack Islands action does eventually emerge from the grey, and is again very nicely inserted into the routine.
I must acknowledge the way Moon has crafted everything in the world, as based in some slight way as it might be on her own military, mountain-climbing past. I don’t feel I have missed the point on this series – that the world of the future will be just as gentle, just as soapy but just as awfully unworkable as today’s – but I do feel the point is blunted by well over three thousand pages of saga.
I would suggest the breadth of the books hinders the personal story of Esmay and her interactions with her antecedents and those of the Serrano family – here certainly the thriller elements bump them off the pages a lot. If you disagree, then I could recommend the series to those with a liking for door-stoppers that pace themselves gently to a pat conclusion, starting of course not with this final volume, but at the beginning. For those picking this book up off the shelf I would make it known to them that while it might well be reasonably self-contained, there is a world of other reading first, and this is not the recommended place to start.
I would like to thank Orbit for sending the Bookbag a copy to sample.
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