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Fool's War
Sarah Zettel
Warner Aspect Books, 455 pages

Fool's War

Sarah Zettel
Sarah Zettel has been writing for fourteen years now. With two published novels in hand (Reclamation and Fool's War) and her short fiction published in Analog, she's found herself with a host of fans and critics alike singing praises of her work.

Sarah Zettel's Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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If Sarah Zettel's second novel, Fool's War, suffers from any single problem, it would be ambition. Zettel attempts to create a complex, realistic world with a large cast of characters. Although she mostly succeeds, there are times, particularly at the beginning of the novel before the reader knows all the characters, when the novel's complexity serves to confuse the reader.

Zettel's main character, Katmer Al Shei, is one of the most unconventional space operatic heroines ever created. Living nearly three centuries after a Muslim extremist touched off a nuclear holocaust, Al Shei is a devout Muslim who prays towards Mecca each day and wears an hijab.

Another major character in Zettel's book is Evelyn Dobbs, the fool hired by Al Shei to travel on her ship, the Pasadena. In Zettel's universe, fools are used to help defray possible personality conflicts brought about by confinement during space travel. To this end, a nearly Medieval guild of fools has been established to provide the clowns needed for space flight. As is typical of "fool" characters dating back to Medieval literature, Dobbs uses her supposed foolishness to promote wisdom and seek information.

The main cause of the previously mentioned confusion is Zettel's willingness to shift back and forth between viewpoint characters, often with little or no notification to the reader that she is going to do this. On the other hand, little action is occurring in the opening sections of the novel because Zettel is using these viewpoint shifts to good effect in her successful attempt to establish the world in which her characters are interacting.

The story Zettel tells is an interesting one, and coupled with her characters and universe well worth the occasional confusion which litters the book. A good editor should have been able to catch these sequences and the few cases of redundancies, but they really don't detract too much from the flow of the novel.

In Fool's War, Sarah Zettel has demonstrated that she is adept at creating complex and believable worlds and likable characters. With time and experience, she should also be able to marshal her writing better to present her stories in a less confusing manner. Based on her second novel, she is definitely a writer to watch in the future.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.


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