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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: The Dragon Never Sleeps

The Dragon Never Sleeps (DRM-free kindle-compatible edition) was a difficult book for me to read. The first time I tried to read it, I couldn't become interested in the characters, and abandoned it. However, at this year's WorldCon, Cook mentioned that it was one of his proudest novels, so I went back and read it again.

The universe Cook weaves is a compelling one. You've got organic military vessels that are nevertheless non-sentient. Starships travel through space on strands of the Web, which turn out to harbor a deeper secret. The war against methane breathers comes with deeper intrigues. Planet-side, the feudal structure of the milieu provides us with a key source of human intrigue. Just as interesting, cloning is an option and is frequently used, and used imaginatively by the author. Yet all this is done without long expositions. It all just happens inside the text. Cook is the master of the brief sketches and dialog that brings out character, and he uses that in this novel in spades. As you might expect, there are no plot-holes here. Everything makes sense if you've been paying attention, yet the surprises are genuine. It's also interesting that the science fictional world portrayed is one where technology is more or less static, and has been for thousands of years, so one military force (guardships) could be designed for immortality without the risk of obsolescence.

There are flaws in this book. The big one is that there are too many characters for you to properly care about, and the important characters aren't fully high-lighted, so if you're going along rapidly you might have to go back and re-read a passage when one reveal or another happens. Cook also flips between nick-names, titles, and real names all the time, which could be confusing, especially since the character cast so so large. All this combined together to make an unusually long (by Cook's standards) book means that the reading gets too dry at times and I had to take breaks. It took a long time to finish this book.

Nevertheless, if you're a fan of Cook's characters, matter of fact exposition, and want to see what he does with science fiction, this is definitely recommended (unlike Passage At Arms. Just don't expect it to be a quick airplane read.

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