Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: "Tears of the Sun" (SPOILERS)

Just finished S.M. Stirling's The Tears of the Sun, the newest novel in the Emberverse.  Here's my review...

The Good

*It was an enjoyable book and a fairly quick read.  Always a plus.

*Stirling clearly put a lot of care into the development of minor characters.

*I liked how the Boisean light cavalry gets lured into a trap with the prospect of sheep to steal and gets jacked.

*Good commando raid into Boise and the price that is paid for victory.  Not going to say who, but the cast from the first books is starting to get mighty thin on the ground...

*Nice cliffhanger ending to set up the next book, Lord of Mountains.

The Bad

*Too much description of the food and how it tastes.  I recall the description of the taste of cured meat coming up many times.

*Rudi MacKenzie, Mathilda Arminger, etc. kind of disappear for a long time.

*Too much time, including multiple flashbacks, spent on Mary Liu's treasonous dealings with the Church Universal and Triumphant and how they're exposed and dealt with.  It was good to meet Odard Liu's other siblings and they do get a lot of development for characters introduced (I think) in this book, but still.  I think a lot of this could have been cut from the book and been replaced with battles.  See below...

*We see Rudi and company gathering for war and we later having Tiphaine d'Ath's Mary Liu flashbacks interrupted by the need to assist Rudi and friends organizing a "fighting retreat."  The campaign and the battle that forced Montival's army to retreat don't get described at all.  This is in marked contrast with the Pendleton campaign of the earlier books, in which the campaign and its aftermath make up a significant chunk of the book. 

Given the book jacket's blurb about how Rudi knows he might die in the fight against the Church Universal and Triumphant, depicting him having a close call in a battle we see onscreen would have been awesome.

The Verdict

A good book, but Stirling can do better.  6 out of 10.


  1. So would you say wait for it at the library rather than pick up a copy?

  2. Well, I prefer to use the library rather than buy books in general. :)

    However, I would say get it from the library first.

    (I think the only Emberverse books I would actually buy are the first three.)

  3. I tend to use my Kindle myself. But the library is great too, when they actually have the books.

    Agreed about the Emberverse. He managed to keep the Sterling-isms checked (or at least tolerable) for the first trilogy. The Rudi MacKenzie tales... not so much.

  4. What are these "Stirlingisms" you're referring to?

  5. To list a few:
    -Every other woman is a lesbian/bisexual
    -Vivid lesbian sex scenes
    -Panganism typically overcomes Christianity
    -S&M will make an appearance somewhere. There is a reason some folks have dubbed him S&M Steling
    -Mary Sue-ish good guys
    -Villains are always Chaotic Evil guys with no redeeming features.
    -Action girls aplenty
    -Wanking of the British

    Don't get me wrong, I still love his work... but the way he relgiously executes these tropes gets a tad tiresome at time. Seriously, with the cahnge series, its gotten to the point I skip over any part that mentions the Clan MacKenzie.

  6. I don't know about the others, but I will concede there are a lot of women who are lesbian or bisexual.

  7. Korsgaard: To list a few:

    >Every other woman is a lesbian/bisexual

    -- Dude, there are about 2 or 3 gay women in the book (and 3 gay men). Only one of the gay women is a p.o.v. character.

    This is more like "one out of 25", which is actually lower than the real percentage. Arithmetic, arithmetic...

    >Vivid lesbian sex scenes

    -- you really haven't read the book, have you? You just haven't.

    Because there aren't -any- sex scenes of -any- variety in the book, unless you count "kiss and fade to black".

    >Panganism typically overcomes Christianity

    -- ah... no. Dude, -read the book- before you try to talk about it.

    >S&M will make an appearance somewhere.

    -- ah... no. Dude, -read the book-.

    >Action girls aplenty

    -- yeah, this is actually the case. You have a problem with women who don't sit home and knit?

    >Wanking of the British

    -- what British? Are you counting Canadians?

    Dude, Canadians are not Brits. The major Canadian character in the book is named -Kovalevsky-. That's a -hint-.

    There are a couple of British (specifically, English) minor characters.

    I don't mind people critiquing what I write, but it does get annoying when they start critiquing some book I -didn't- write.

    1. Mr. Stirling, do you really feel so threatened by criticism that it must completely overshadow the praise you've received?

    2. I'm not threatened, I'm -irritated- by gross inaccuracy.

      I didn't say anything about Quinn's review. It simply stated what he liked and didn't like about what was -in the book-. That's perfectly legitimate.

  8. First, let me say I’m honored to speak with you Mr. Sterling, though admittedly, I wish it was under more friendly circumstances. I do admit though, there is some humor to be had when my critique of a writer is being critiqued by that same writer on a review critiquing a work of that very same writer.

    In response your you sir, my Sterling-isms quip was just something I noticed as over aching themes in your work. For example:

    -You do feature a shockingly large number of lesbians in your work, from Marion Alston and Swindapa in Island in the Sea of Time, Tiphaine d'Ath and her lover in the Change series, to various members of the Draka. As you pointed out, you did not have graphic lesbian sex in this particular book, but you had a couple of scenes featuring it in the Island in the Sea of Time series that were very detailed and unnecessary. In contrast, the fade to black approach was used in other sex scenes, and while you do have bi or gay men characters, they are usually mentioned in asides.

    -Christianity and the United States often both get wiped out or greatly weakened in your work. In Peshawar Lancers, the former has been altered beyond all recognition, and the latter wiped out, in spite of the fact that that Britain was somehow able to survive a trans-planet migration to it’s colonies. Similarly, In the Draka verse, both are wiped out, and in the Change verse, Wiccanism and various cults like CUT are growing at the expense of Christianity, and the USA is once again wiped out, in spite of Prince William forming a resurgent British Empire in Europe.

    -As an extension, nothing bad or insurmountable ever seems to face the British, who survive cataclysms, with the natives of Britannia being the main allies of the Nantucketeers in the ISOT series, Surviving a cataclysm that wiped out much of the world in both the Changeverse and Peshawar Lancers, and being the sole part of Europe not under the Draka’s boot heel.

    -Though more subdued now, S&M for a time was prominent in your work, most notably with Alice Hong in ISOT, William Arminger in the Changerverse, and the way the Draka society is set up in the Draka series.

    -Your heroes are quite often what could be described as Mary Sues, which is a shame given you have a talent for crafting memorable villains. Its always been something I’ve noticed in your work, but your villains, whether be William Walker in the ISOT series, William Arminger in the Change series, the Draka in the Domination series, or even the Chernobog worshiping Russians in Peshawar Lancers are almost always better written, given better motivation, and leave a bigger impact with the reader than your heroes do, who are typically bland, exchangeable supporters of whatever can pass for a social democracy in the current universe, and that their biggest purpose is to oppose the villains

    Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with writers using overarching tropes in their works, as most writers do - to use one of your contemporaries, Harry Turtledove always has his characters say ‘Bully’ at every opportunity they have, to say nothing of basing most of his work on alternate WWIIs - but at a certain point, some of yours get a tad tiresome. I still greatly enjoy your work, but as Quinn pointed out in his review, you could do better, and I fully agree.

    1. "my Stirling-isms quip was just something I noticed as over aching themes in your work."

      -- no, you were specifically referencing -this book-, and the second Emberverse series. See above.

      "He managed to keep the Sterling-isms checked (or at least tolerable) for the first trilogy. The Rudi MacKenzie tales... not so much."

      From your own mouth.

      It's fairly plain you just made assumptions about this book without reading it. You're also assuming I use tropes reflexively.

      "Harry Turtledove always has his characters say ‘Bully’ at every opportunity"

      -- no, he doesn't, and there you go again.

      It's used in Turtledove's work when it's period-appropriate (1880's through 1920's) and not otherwise, except when a character is indulging in deliberate archaism.

      Friend, there's an old saying:

      "It ain't what you don't know that'll kill you, it's what you think you know that just ain't so."

      Also, when in a hole, stop digging.

      Quinn liked the book but wanted more battles and didn't like some of the discursive techniques; this is perfectly legitimate. He read the book and described it accurately.

      The desire for more battles is just a matter of taste.

      He didn't actually misrepresent the work.

      You did.

      At this point, the only way to rescue yourself is to 'fess up.

  9. First, Korsgaard was making a general comment about your writings. He was not commenting on this particular work.
    Second, you didn't even bother to thank Quinn for commenting on your book nor did you respond to what he wrote. Very disappointing.

    1. "He managed to keep the Sterling-isms checked (or at least tolerable) for the first trilogy. The Rudi MacKenzie tales... not so much."

      -- this looks like a fairly specific reference to this book to me.

  10. Just want to say I like your books Mr. Stirling.

    My only problems with them is the ASB levels in which Christianity is pushed to the sides in them. Now I'm not a Christian, but I don't see paganism wining that fast.

    Of course with Alternate History and fiction in general one shouldn't always expect total realism.

  11. Wait, what's wrong with lesbians and sex? I think books should have those things more.

  12. Where to start? Let's see....

    The review and subsequent conversation was about the book Tears of the Sun. Criticism should have stayed with that book, or at least in the Emberverse and Emberverse II. Calling up characters from other books should not have been allowed.

    -Every other woman is a lesbian/bisexual

    In all of S.M. Stirling's works there are 4 lesbians. Lady Tiphanie d'Ath and Delia in the Emberverse; Marian Alston and Swindapa in ISOT, but again ISOT was not the subject of the review.

    -Vivid lesbian sex scenes

    Stirling is very much fade to black when it comes sex scenes, heterosexual or Lesbian.

    -Panganism typically overcomes Christianity

    In the Emberverse the Portland Protective Association is Roman Catholic. Mathilda Arminger, soon to be heir of the PPA, is a devout RC who would not have sex with Rudi until they were married. The wedding of Rudi and Mathilda was RC. Father Ignatius is a RC priest, one of the 9 who ventured to seek The Sword of the Lady, and along the way was visited and blessed by the Virgin Mary, and is now her Knight. He is also one of the most widely educated of the characters in the Emberverse II. The folks in Iowa are Christians and even the folks from the US of Boise are Christians, though Frederick Thurston has become a pagan, worshiping the Æsir. Even the Mormon's of New Deseret are nominal Christians. Norman Arminger even produced his own Pope, but after Arminger's death, and the revelation that there was a new Catholic Pope, Benedict XVI, the PPA abandoned Arminger's puppet Pope. More to come...


  13. -S&M will make an appearance somewhere. There is a reason some
    folks have dubbed him S&M Steling

    Norman (not William) Arminger was an extreme sadist, and crazy as hell. Lady Tiphanie d'Ath is a sadist, but that's mostly to keep people in terror of her. The world reverted to somewhere between the 15th-17th centuries, and era where savagery, brutality, torture and rule by terror were common. Norman Arminger built the PPA using street gangs as muscle; don't be surprised if those people act badly.

    -Mary Sue-ish good guys

    If the companions of the Quest being physically attractive, highly skilled and dedicated make them Mary Sue's, so be it. I see it as being heroic fiction, which has a tendency to include romantic and amazing characters.

    -Villains are always Chaotic Evil guys with no redeeming features.

    Norman Arminger was a severe and ruthless villain; he was a vicious, sociopathic monster. But in retrospect, even the "good guys" admit that his tyrannical rule of the PPA produced a functioning society where one would probably not exist. His methods to unify Portland also preventing anarchy and an even more extreme loss of live through starvation and plague.

    Sandra Arminger is just as as cruel as her late husband, in some ways more, but under her Regency of the PPA she has significantly improved the lives of the greater majority of people in that area. That she is a vicious, evil bitch who used assassination and occasionally torture to achieve desired goals are common comments made about her. But, she has been a good mother to Mathilda, and was significant in the raising of Rudi Mackenzie. And, under her Regency, the PPA is arguably the most powerful force in Oregon and Washington, and that region did not descend into a state of cannibalism and entropy that took down most of the US.

    Sethaz, the Prophet of the Church Universal and Triumphant, or CUT, is a complete monster, with true demonic powers; he would have fit in quite well in a story by H.P. Lovecraft.

    Martin Thurston killed his father because Lawrence Thurston, President/General of the US of Boise was going to announce a free election in that State, a further attempt to reunify the dead US. He's a competent General, but is taking his land in a more fascist direction, and is now allied with the CUT, and seems to be demon possessed of late. More to come...


  14. -Action girls aplenty

    F*ckin-A. I like that. It's a swashbuckling world, and the Ladies have learned that they can fight for what they hold dear.

    -Wanking of the British

    There are four Brits in the series to date: Nigel and Alleyne Loring, father and son, who fell out of grace with Mad King Charles, and fled England, eventually to Oregon of a Tasmanian sailing ship. They brought with them "Little" John Hordle, a classic man at arms. I don't think the story of the Loring's escaping the clutches of Charles III would have been believable with out him. Again, this is heroic fiction, and the Loring's are nothing if not heroic. They are also very gifted fighters, attractive, well educated and outstanding in many ways. Nigel Loring was offered full reinstatement under the reign of King William III, with great title and land, but declined, deciding that his life was now with Juniper Mackenzie. Alleyne Loring made the same choice, and married Astrid Larssen, sister of Mike Havel, one of the two founders of the Duendain Rangers. The back story was a way to introduce characters from somewhere outside the US, and to expand the perspective of what has gone on in the world since the Change. Sam Aylward, formerly of the SAS was included as a device prop to provide the the English longbow to the Mackenzie's. If S.M. Stirling is a rotter for being a bit of an Anglophile, he has good company in many of his readers.

    I'll sit and read a while; rest my fingers.


  15. Yolande Ingolffson is a prominent character Lesbian Warrior in Stone Dogs, for what it's worth.

    I think "Stirling-isms" are to be enjoyed as well as observed. They are akin to tail fins on Cold War-era Cadillacs, women in the life of James Bond, etc. Call them idiosyncracies, tropes, amusing recurring characteristics, they help define the subject in a way that enthusiasts can relate to.

    I can imagine that tackling this in such a way could be like making love to a demented anaconda, but, needs must when the devil drives. (Ha ha ha!)

  16. And if S.M. Stirling reads this, hey! Write out "Laughter of the Guns" next time you have a spare twelve hours, eh? I'd pay to read that!

    (Incidentally, Merry Prankster, me modelcitizen, how you doing?)

  17. I'm doing nicely. How're you?