Review: A Time to Build by Rick Rossing

2.5 stars (For an explanation of my curmudgeonly rating and reviewing quirks, please refer to my reviewing guide.)

There are many things to love about this book. It has a great early Heinlein feel to it, and the positives are easy to list:

  • a classic coming-of-age “lost prince” narrative hook
  • a light touch with dialogue
  • enjoyable character interplay
  • a fabulous, intricately-designed, sweeping universe to explore
  • good pacing
  • plenty of history, plenty of twists and reveals
  • action!

Great ideas. Lots of attention to detail. Fun creatures and creations, humor to balance out tension…but so many assorted presentation issues that I had to push myself to finish.

It’s a rough gem, but the setting interfered with my appreciation of its beauty. Grammar quirks. Repetitive descriptions and dialogue tags. Tons of dialogue without any tags, in multi-person conversations between people whose voices were too similar to tell apart. (I didn’t like it when Asimov did it, and I didn’t like it here.)  Everyone was always standing up and looking around, sitting down and turning their heads, touching an arm and nodding. Everyone was always talking. Telling each other things that happened. Explaining the past. Discussing the plans. Recapping what happened.

All the things I listed are sins I am undoubtedly guilty of committing as an author. Perhaps I am blind to the shortcomings of my own children and over-sensitive to them in others. This is possible, but in any case, this book exceeded my tolerance.

Taken together the elements do make a storytelling style, a cohesive and perhaps even an intentional one, but the older I get, the less patience I have for it. I want more poetry in my prose. My other main issue is more personal. I grew up reading “boy books” because there were very few SFF titles with women in lead roles, so I have no problem identifying with male protagonists. I also have experience tolerating story lines in which women, children, mothers and girlfriends exist as props for the main character’s development. At least the women in this story have brains, brawn and other strengths and weaknesses. Like Heinlein’s women, and David Weber’s, they’re more than furniture. I’m glad of that, but they never felt real to me, not the way the men did. A shiny perfect prize is still only a prize, not a person.

Now that there are plenty of stories out in the world that have spaceships, dragons, adventure and women who are villainous or heroic, strong or week independent of their men, I’d rather spend my time in those worlds.

My advice?  Read the Look Inside. If nothing about the style bugs you, and you have a high tolerance for traditional gender role-play dressed up in “strong female character” clothing, then you have a rollicking fun read ahead of you, with sequels to follow. This isn’t technically YA fiction, but the themes of maturing and choosing to act heroically makes it feel young, and the light, fast-moving plot full of aliens and adventure is suitable for teens.

Link to purchase: A Time to Build.

It may be just your cup of tea. Please give it a look.

5 Words I Wish I Could Use–and Why I Can’t.

I love language. I was a lucky, blessed toddler whose parents read to her on a regular basis. I love the way words feel and move, how they leave the body on a breath, how they spill out on a page, each with a unique height and depth and cadence. That legacy of warm, loving embraces and laughter informs even the hard words I learned later, even the nasty awful ones. I love words, so today I’m indulging in a eulogy to socially-freighted vocabulary.

Look at these wonderful words: articulate, elite. entitled, intellectual, privileged.1, 2

Each one has rolled in enough sociological mud to be exiled to the verbal woodshed forever. They were once complimentary. They should be positives as well as adjectives. They aren’t. I wish they were, but if wishes were horses, I would have a huge hay bill to pay off. Huge.

A short digression into personal history. My first experience with the perils of vocabulary came at age ten. I was at sleep-away summer camp, babbling away with my tent-mates (they liked me! we read the same books!)  at dinner. Our unit counselor did not approve of us. At some point, I described someone’s behavior as animated. She proceeded–loudly and at length–to mock me in front of the entire camp for thinking I was so smart when I didn’t even know that animated meant cartoons.

I was smart. I didn’t argue with someone who had ultimate authority over me for five more days. It hurt like being flayed alive, and I still carry the conversational scars.  I can’t speak my mind with passion and eloquence unless I am too enraged to remember that pain. When I am angry, however, I become viciously articulate, and the people I admire most are those who who speak and write with skill and artful expertise in any circumstances.

The subtext of dismantling or constructing, the lengthy assault of syllables…oh, I miss that word.  Why can’t I use articulate to describe someone who has the ability to swing words as weapons or lift an audience to delight with the power of their vocabulary? It is magic, and a wonder to behold. Racist bigots stole one of my favorite compliments to use as a backhanded swipe at people of color. Awful racist bigots.

Of course, admitting to a love of articulate people leaves me open to accusations of elitism. To which I say, YUP. What of it?  I aspire to excellence. I admire those who achieve it. When did being a member of an elite become a bad thing?  When did it become a pejorative? Ditto for intellectual. These words should be good things, but they’re not these days, and I miss them.  I’mma just gonna leave this Isaac Asimov quote here and move on.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”

Next, let’s take a look at entitlement. What the hell happened to this innocent little word?  Look at the root form. En-title. It’s a transitive verb. It isn’t a state or a condition, it’s an action. It’s something someone does to someone. No one gets to be entitled without someone entitling them.  Except now.  Now its an insult to fling at people who used to get accused of being uppity and not paying their dues. Uh-huh.  The moment it became an adjective, it was sullied and lost to use by anyone but resentful grouches who feel threatened by any demographic that doesn’t appreciate their precious status quo.

Speaking of status quo, I’ll wrap up with privilege. The word is a tool of intellectual (!) discourse. There, its nuanced meaning of (more or less)  a constellation of advantages afforded to one group but not others has an important place. Race, sex, orientation, age, income, and ability do skew perspective. All the same, I miss being able to say “It’s been a privilege to meet/work with/know …” It’s too heavy a word for the lightweight use as a compliment now. Also, buzzwords make me twitch.

I was first trained out of the naive, ignorant use of articulate, and rightfully so. Years later now, I can appreciate how gently the correction was offered. At the time it came as a painful shock, and I resented it for a long time. Grief hits like that sometimes: anger first, before acceptance. The other words have fallen away over the last decade, casualties, one by one, of the culture wars that I think are going to get much worse before they get better.

That’s it. Those are the five words I miss most. All done. IF you were expecting deep social relevance or insight … wrong blog, sorry. This is my self-space. The World Revolves Around Boring Ol’ Me.  If you wanted serious personal revelations or rants about writing, go back a few posts. Or come back another time. I’m sure I’ll rant again soon.

Note 1: I’m using alphabetical order, for lack of any other objective ranking.
Note 2: there are many more than five words that qualify, but these are the ones that came to mind without hesitation. These are my favorites among the filthy, sticky, dirty collection of oldie-moldy well-loved Problematic Words