Friday, August 8, 2014

Surfing the Human Wave: Dave Freer's Stardogs

So -- I've fallen behind the past several days, and for that delay, I apologize. In truth, I've run into a block, and I think what's been holding me back is the fact that I disagree with some folks I respect regarding Dave Freer's Stardogs. While said folks seemed to enjoy it, I really struggled -- especially through the first twenty percent. (I'm a Kindle reader here, so sadly, I have no pages to reference.)

Granted, the universe Freer establishes is pretty damned amazing. Basically, well before humanity attempted interstellar travel, two other races fought a total war that led to their mutual annihilation. But while the giants may have exited the playground, the remains of their respective civilizations were left littered throughout the galaxy -- and when human beings discovered these remnants centuries later, they essentially built their own empire on the wreckage. Unfortunately, this empire evolved into a cross between a corrupt monarchy and a corrupt oligarchy in which the Stardogs - works of alien bio-engineering that have mastered FTL travel - and their human riders are ruthlessly exploited for the power and profit of their rulers.

Yes: It's certainly a setting ripe for conflict. My problems with the execution, however, are two:
  1. It takes too long to get to the core plot. The opening chapters are devoted to the entire history of the human empire from the accidental discovery of the Stardogs to the present day, and for me, that was an extremely difficult slog. Given the third-person-omniscient point-of-view, I feel those details could've been provided on an "as-needed" basis instead of all at once -- and indeed, when Freer switches to that approach in the back half of the book, the pacing of the story improves immensely.
  2. The core plot doesn't take full advantage of the set-up. After you've sowed the seeds for rebellion -- I'm not sure the right answer is to focus solely on a "bottle story" set on a planet that is currently out of circulation. True: The characters involved all represent key factions of the aforementioned political ferment, but their bickering among themselves doesn't really present the social divides in the empire in the most interesting possible way. And pushing the actual revolution entirely off screen? To be honest, I felt cheated.    
But hey: Perhaps I was just tired this past week and that somehow contributed to my frustration. If I've mentioned anything here that piques your interest, go ahead and give Stardogs a look. I certainly won't stop you!

Final Verdict: Your Mileage May Vary.

1 comment:

  1. I had pretty much the same reaction, especially your first complaint. On my Amazon review I said this book is one of the better arguments for traditional publishing and against indie (I realize for certain types of stories that isn't currently an option but think in the platonic sense). I think being forced to work with an editor would have cleaned up the first third or so of the book and either cut back on the cast or made them more distinct. When the action hit I was a bit confused as to who was who. Also, the fact that one character was actually in multiple places was obscured in a way I generally don't enjoy.

    I was less bothered by the bottle story choice. I figure we'll be seeing the rest soon enough.

    I like the world enough to be ready to buy another one in the setting but if the pacing and clarity isn't better I doubt I'd buy a third.