Thursday, April 30, 2020


Elizabeth Bear
Completed 4/27/2020, Reviewed 4/27/2020
3 stars

This book is a good example of terrific world-building with a convoluted plot.  Bear created a fantastic new world called New Amazonia where women run everything and men are divided into studs, for breeding, or gentles, for serving.  She also evolved Earth into New Earth, a post-apocalyptic world where humans created an AI called the Governors which then culled most of population because they did not possess the correct behaviors or made the right choices.  Most of the people of the Northern Hemisphere were eliminated.  New Amazonia is one of the planets people fled to before the second culling.  Despite this awesome setting, Bear created a story of espionage and double-crossing that was very hard to follow.  So, I didn’t really enjoy that part.  Nonetheless, this book was nominated for several awards, including the Gaylactic Spectrum Award.

The story is about Vincent, a diplomat and spy, and Michelangelo, his bodyguard, who is basically also a spy.  They have been lovers for forty years, though they have not seen each other for the past seventeen.  Their new mission reunites them.  They are sent to New Amazonia to bring them under the influence of the Coalition, which are planets in league with New Earth and its Governors.  Their cover is that they are there to recover some art.  On New Amazonia, they have to deal with differing sects, assassination attempts, the fiercely independent controlling government, and general political intrigue. 

The characterization wasn’t too bad.  Vincent and Michelangelo aren’t too badly developed, though at times, I couldn’t tell the two apart by their dialogue or interactions.  One nice thing about them is that this is not a romance; it’s simply about two characters who have been in love for forty years. 

The women on New Amazonia all kind of bled together, except for Lesa Pretoria, a high ranking official with whom the two men stay with for most of their time on the planet.  It took me most of the book to get the others straight in my head.  I really didn’t feel too much for any of the characters.  It’s not that they were cardboard.  It’s just that the dialogue didn’t give you much feel for the emotions of any of them.  They were all either rather stoic, or simply one-dimensional.  I’m not exactly sure which.

One thing I liked about the characters is that they were mostly non-white, as most of the survivors of the Earth’s first culling were from the southern hemisphere.  I also liked that Vincent and Michelangelo were at least sixty years old, but still considered middle-aged and had the physicality of middle-aged men. 

There were some great details to the world building.  There were the wardrobes, the outfits that the two lead men wore.  They were like AI clothes, with temperature control, sun screening, self-healing and body function monitoring, and could render you invisible.  Also interesting were the women’s pets/companions, the Khir, which were sort of a highly intelligent dog type creature.  Though what they really are is a bit of a mystery and is part of a big reveal in the end.

So those were things I liked.  What I didn’t like was the main plot and the dialogue.  Both were very convoluted.  The plot, I never really got all the politics and double-crossing.  I was able to follow the basic idea and had to let go the things that didn’t make sense.  It did more or less come together in the end, but I felt like I definitely missed a lot of the intrigue.   I think part of it had to do with the dialogue.  There was not much direct dialogue.  Everyone spoke subtly and in riddles.  It was further complicated by the long prose which often interrupted each speaker’s thought.  In one extreme example, one character begins speaking.  Then there were three paragraphs of prosy internal thoughts.  Then finally, the end of the what that character was saying.  It was very difficult to follow. 

I give this book three stars out of five:  four stars for the world-building, two stars for the plot and dialogue.  I have been hit or miss with this author, more miss than hit.  I don’t think I’ll be reading much more of her.  The only reason I have read as much as I have is because she has been nominated for many LGBTQ+ awards, though I don’t believe she has ever won one. 

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