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Michael Stackpole
Bantam Spectra, 429 pages

Michael A. Stackpole
Michael A. Stackpole was born in Wausau, Wisconsin, in 1957 and grew up in Vermont. He sold his first gaming project to Flying Buffalo in 1977. After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1979 with a BA in History, he moved and has lived in Arizona ever since. In 1987, FASA hired him to write the Warrior trilogy of BattleTech novels.

Michael A. Stackpole Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: When Dragons Rage
SF Site Review: Eyes of Silver
SF Site Review: Star Wars: I, Jedi
SF Site Review: Battletech: Warrior: En Garde

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

I make it a habit to give a book 50 pages to suck me in, or be considered a failure.

I was generous with this one, because it was a review book and I felt an obligation to it. I got to page 86.

Possibly it's just that this is Book 2 of a series (something that doesn't actually appear anywhere on the FRONT page of the paperback, and which, if I had been aware of its nature, I might have thought twice about leaping into mid-stream as it were, trilogies being what they are. But on the whole, I don't think that this book would have taken me beyond those initial pages, whatever its birth order was. There were just too many things...

Well. Consider this.

"You must remember that Empress Cyrsa, lo these many years ago, divided her Empire among the princes and entrusted it to them, not the Imperial bureaucracy. Do you know why? Because a society that is perfectly ordered is a society that becomes stagnant. It becomes inflexible. You would have it such that every family is a man, a woman, and two children -- preferably one of each gender -- for it keeps things perfectly stable. But life is not stable. Families change for any of nine thousand different reasons. No planning can encompass them all, which means circumstance is reduced to a controllable number, everything is lumped together, and the society frays because the needs of individuals are not accounted for."
Do I need to LIST the things that make me want to hurl the book across the room at this point? This is DIALOGUE; it is preceded and followed by pages of the same -- but you show me anybody who actually speaks like this and I will show you someone lecturing (badly) to a University class on ethics or population dynamics or sociology, while 80% of the audience is frankly asleep and the rest are throwing paper airplanes at one another. An infodump in disguise is still an infodump.

And if you think that was an isolated example, I have at least another three egregious examples of this "dialogue" marked, but let us not go down that path... Suffice it to say that if this much back story is essential for THIS story to make sense then THIS story was started in the wrong place.

But it isn't just dialogue.

Consider this passage:

"Lord Xin Melcirvon had cast his sword onto the rumpled bed and pulled up a rough-hewn wooden chair. The chair did give him a slight height advantage, which he would have surrendered were they both standing. Junel wore his black hair shorter than his visitor, and his body was of longer, leaner proportions than that of the inland lord. They both had light eyes -- blue for Junel and hazel for Melcivron -- but the visitor's were set a bit too close to suggest intelligence or inspire confidence."
First of all, classic fantasyland syndrome -- too many names, too many WEIRD names which do not lodge in a context or any given culture and which therefore mean nothing and are not easily remembered -- even when they aren't flung at the reader in double handfuls. Secondly, how many people are in that passage -- Melcivron, Junel, the visitor, the inland lord...? Thirdly, if the most interesting thing about these characters -- and this is where they are introduced -- is which is the taller and what colour eyes they have and what hairstyles they sport, I find myself so bored by the end of this ONE paragraph that I have uttered the Eight Deadly Words in my mind: I DON'T CARE WHAT HAPPENS TO THESE PEOPLE. I think Stackpole's ideas in this novel are wonderful -- but ideas do not make a book. When you have nothing but ideas your characters become cardboard cutouts and your dialogue becomes a lecture and you're lost before you begin.

I love fantasy. I love reading it, I love writing it, I have been in love with it for many years. But when I trip over a book a like Cartomancy, I begin to have an inkling about why so many people think this genre is so eminently easy to say bad things about. If I were dipping a toe into the genre for the first time and I picked up this book, I'd probably never dare come back for another try.

Copyright © 2006 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days, and is currently working on a new YA trilogy to be released in the winter of 2006.

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