Wednesday 21 December 2011

City of Pearl (The Wess'har Wars Book 1) - Karen Traviss

Title: City of Pearl (The Wess'har Wars Book 1)
Author: Karen Traviss
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2004
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

"City of Pearl" by Karen Traviss is the first book in her "The Wess'har Wars" series of Science Fiction novels and was the December read for Women of Science Fiction Book Club. As with many of the other books I have read as part of this book club, I had never actually heard of this one before. At least this time the author was also known to me via her Gears of War novels although I have to admit that I have never read them either.

The story is set at a time when various governments have merged together in an attempt to combat the growing powers of corporations. The main protagonist, Shan Frankland is a police officer for one of these governments who is preparing to retire from her duties in Environmental Hazards unit. However, when a government minister then offers her the chance to visit another world she decides to take on one more job. Her team of scientists and marines are heading out to the only habitable planet known to Earth in an attempt to find out what happened to the colonist who headed there many years earlier. When they arrive, to their surprise they find that the colony has survived, however they also discover that the planet is hot spot between three other sentient alien species that all have their own agendas and ideas of what could be defined as right and wrong.

The first comment I will make about the story is that it doesn't paint a pretty picture of humanity. The author seems to take as many negative aspects about our species as she can and crams them all in to such an extent that I wonder if she even actually likes being human. Whilst, I am more than happy for novels to portray people in a more realistic way, it did all seem a little bit too negative for me. In particular I couldn't believe the way that the scientists involved in the novel have been portrayed, I don't think I have ever seen such an obnoxious, selfish, unethical group of thoroughly un-likeable people as them and I just don't believe that they would really all act in this rather self-obsessed manner.

I suspect that Traviss is trying to make a point in the novel about how we as a species act and treat our environment but I just found it all a little bit too preachy. The worst aspect of this was in regards to the way that one of the alien species seemed to be so horrified at humans eating meat or other animal products. Honestly, if there was one thing that got my back up in this book it was some of these almost blatant attempts at promoting a Vegan diet.

However, if I ignore the almost over the top negativity about humanity and some of the preachy tendencies then I am more than willing to state that this is actually a well written and interesting, character driven science fiction novel. The plot is well-paced and whilst it is quite light on the action front, there was enough there to keep the story entertaining. It really explores ecology and the way in which humanity and others can interact and affect each other without truly understanding the differing consequences for each group.

One element I really think Traviss has excelled at is in her portrayal of the different alien species. She has developed them to a level that the reader can visualise and understand some of their actions without getting bogged down in excessive descriptions. Each species has their own foibles and cultural elements that really highlight the differences between both humanity and each of them.

The characters in the story both impressed me and yet also depressed me for differing reasons. When I considered the two main characters, Shan and her alien friend Aras, I found them to have been wonderfully developed. I felt that I could really understand the various reasons for their thoughts, ideas and actions as the story progressed. In particular, I found Aras to be superb, his loneliness was palpable and the manner in which his association with humanity was affecting his personality and choices was engrossing to read. However, the supporting characters are a different thing entirely; most of them seemed nothing more than cardboard cut-outs put in place as something for Shan and Aras to complain about in some way. As I said earlier in the review, the scientists were nothing more than obnoxious nasty people, but the Marines were also on the whole nothing more than names that just followed orders. It was a shame really as the few characters that Traviss did at least provide a little development on such as a marine called Ade and a journalist called Eddie seemed like they could be thoroughly interesting to understand further. I just hope that in the future novels we get a little bit more development into them in particular.

In summary, this was an interesting and enjoyable novel that was probably slightly let down by what I saw as an over the top attempt at preaching to the reader about how bad we all are. I think this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys character driven and thought provoking Science Fiction. The way the plot has been written in my opinion also offers a lot of growth for the future and I look forward with anticipation to the prospect of future books incorporating some action and adventure to go alongside the character driven elements showcased in this novel.


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