Saturday, June 16, 2012

Margaret Weis, Star of the Guardians

Right.  So when I was small, I read the first two Dragonlance trilogies, the Chronicles and Legends, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  I liked them, but for some insane reason, I assumed that what I really liked was the Dragonlance name rather than the specific writers, and I felt somehow obligated to read the jillions of others that had been published, even though ninety-eight percent of them at least were shit.  What I really should have done was check out Weis & Hickman's other, non-Dragonlance stuff.  When I finally did--starting with the seven-book Deathgate Cycle when I was in eighth grade--I was blown the fuck away.  I also loved the Rose of the Prophet trilogy, and the Darksword trilogy was pretty good.  I was slightly less keen on the idea of reading Weis's at-the-time-only solo outing, this here Star of the Guardians, because the whole space opera thing didn't really appeal to me all that much.  But eventually I did, and I liked it, more or less, I think, as far as I can remember.  Honestly, I don't think my impressions of it were all that strong.  But I recently felt this violent nostalgic urge to revisit this series that I barely remembered, so let's see how it holds up to my jaundiced eye, eh?

The Lost King (1990)

Stop me if you've heard this one before: an oppressive government has taken over the galaxy.  On a desert planet, there lives a young man who knows nothing of his legacy as a member of the old, mystical order.  But when the government's representatives kill his guardian, he must flee in the company of a rough-hewn and cynical but good-hearted mercenary to learn the truth about his past and join with a group of rebels to fight to restore the proper order.  And there are lightsabers, ferfucksake.

Okay, in all fairness, the particulars of the narrative do distinguish it from Star Wars to a pretty substantial extent.  But the initial premise is about as blatant a rip-off as you can imagine.

The old order was an empire, which was overthrown to form a putative republic that turned out to be not so democratic as you'd hope (it's also made apparent that the monarchy wasn't so great either, but not for any systemic reason--the king was weak and that's about it).  There are two branches to the story, which more or less converge: first you have your Luke, known here as Dion Starfire.  He's the heir to the throne that no longer exists.  Then you have your Han, named Tusk (a nickname--he has a longer one, but it's kinda long and dopey-sounding).  They escape from the republic's forces and get involved in a small civil war over trade rights or something, and there's a romance thing with Tusk and another mercenary, Nola.

Then, there's Derek Sagan, your Vader-ish figure.  He was the best of these here Guardians that the title refers to; they were supposed to protect the royal family and stuff, but he went rogue and helped to overthrow them and kill the royals and whatnot and now he's looking for Dion, to use him as a political tool of some sort (his exact motivations are a bit murky).  To find him, he first needs to find Maigrey Morianna, who was also a Guardian as well as (apparently probably) Sagan's lover, who had renounced her past and been in hiding since the revolution seventeen years prior.  When Sagan captures her, there's all this ambiguity and love/hate and politicking around about what's going to happen and what will be done with her.

Now, the thing about Dion is, being a member of the royal family means that he's awesome at everything to a degree that could fairly be characterized as "stupid."  Like: he has a perfect, eidetic memory.  He knows all of Shakespeare by heart.  He knows eighty languages.  He immediately intuits how a spaceship engine works, even though Tusk, who's been around them for years, has no clue.  He's instantly an awesome pilot even though it's supposed to take years to get that good.  For fuck's sake: Luke had to train intensively with Yoda, and even then, he was only good at The Force.  He didn't also became a linguistic and mechanical genius.  We are given to understand that these royal family people have had genetic modifications of various sorts that facilitated their awesomeness, but the novel clearly wants to have it both ways: sure, there's a scientific explanation; but he's also awesome because being royal makes him awesome.  Eh.  Actually, he's not that bad, though; he has insecurities that prevent him from being insufferable, and as the story progresses, these start to take precedence over the awesomeness.

There's not actually that much to say about Tusk; he more or less is what it says on the tin.  The romance bit feel superfluous and not very interesting.  Oh yeah, and he's black, which represents a token but nonetheless appreciated effort to include some degree of diversity.  The galaxy still seems rather whiter than one would have expected, but that's hardly a Weis-specific complaint, of course.

In what is by far the novel's biggest misfire, Tusk has this horrible talking, temperamental computer, XJ, that's supposed to be funny but actually inspires fervent prayers for the sweet embrace of death.  It also has full control over Tusk's ship, and if it's annoyed, as it often is, it can totally shut off lights or life support or anything, and this definitely is not meant to be creepy, but it very much is.  There's absolutely no justification for Tusk not getting rid of this horrible creature and replacing it with something more normal and pliant.  A Chewbacca knockoff would've been far better.

Derek Sagan.  Deh-Reck-Say-Gan.  I'm afraid that--in this first book, at any rate--he is an extremely incoherently-drawn character.  The idea--we are told on numerous occasions--is that he's harsh but just: he may have betrayed the old empire, but code of honor blah blah blah.  But this is clearly a lie.  As in: he tortures and then kills a Guardian he's captured so as to learn where to find Maigrey.  Then, he orders the entire area within a hundred-mile radius obliterated to punish everyone for harboring a fugitive.  And at the end--spoilers, but whatever; it's not like you were ever going to read this--he totally betrays the rebels who had agreed to help him against a common threat and orders them all killed, even though he had granted them a pardon.  That's the one that really gets to me: you can do all sorts of awful shit, but when you start breaking your word to people like that, there's no way you can even claim to have some sort of morality that may be different and unlikeable but nonetheless claims a grudging respect.  When Dion points out that he had pardoned them, he responds "so I did, boy.  They'll face their God--if they have one--free of sin."  Yup--legalistic parsing of words: that's a sign that we're dealing with one honorable motherfucker.  And yet…earlier, in the book's most bizarre scene, he had gotten super upset (genuinely so; no affectation) because Dion's guardian, who is also a Guardian, had impaled himself on Sagan's sword rather than allowing himself to be captured and tortured and killed to try to conceal Maigrey's whereabouts, because suicide is a sin!  You'll go to hell!  OMG!  Jeez louise.  It's just too much nonsense.

I suppose Maigrey is the best-drawn character, although what she thinks she's doing, and why her feelings about Sagan--who, really, is nothing but a dick to her throughout--is kind of mysterious.  Is it sexist to constantly be referring to him by last name and her by first?  YES, especially since he's always referred to as "Lord Sagan," whereas she is "Lady Maigrey."  You need to switch it to either "Lord Derek" or "Lady Morianna."  C'mon.

So for the first two thirds of the book, we're trying to sort out what's going to happen with Sagan, Maigrey, and Dion, more or less--Tusk actually plays a pretty minimal role.  But then…aliens attack.  They're these sort of hive-mind aliens, called Corasians, and that's when Sagan enlists the help of Tusk and the other mercenaries.  This whole alien-attack business isn't totally out of the blue--we are led to believe that the President, being corrupt and stuff, helped it to happen so as to consolidate political power--but it sure feels that way; like it's really just making time so that something can happen while the real narrative is unfolding.  These aliens are none too interesting or well-drawn.

There are also parts that are simply weird; that Weis clearly didn't think through very well.  There's the aforementioned "Sagan is anti-suicide" bit.  There's also this part where Sagan as-good-as orders Maigrey to attend a sort of dinner/cocktail party thing, and we are led to expect that there's gonna be a lot of sub-rosa jousting; that everything's going to be subtext, like a Mad Men episode.  But…then it's not, really; they're talking, out loud, in front of all the troops an' god an' everyone, about who here is a traitor and who should be executed and then Sagan orders Tusk captured and Maigrey's old mercenary friend killed right then and there and it's just really strange.  There's a bit more unintentional humor when Sagan, meeting with said friend--John Dixter, he's named, and he's a mercenary general who escaped the royal family's ousting--keeps referring to him as 'general,' with quotation marks, to show that he doesn't respect his supposed rank, and he keeps doing it, and it's kind of ridiculous, but it gets really funny if you picture him making air quotes every time.  Finally, towards the end, when Sagan and Maigrey are onboard the alien ship to rescue Dion and they've set up self-destruct mechanisms so the thing's gonna go in five minutes, they totally start making out.  Um…maybe perhaps that could wait a bit?  Note that they don't know for sure if they have everything mastered and if this escape is going to work; it's not like there's time to waste.  This could have been some sort of metty-four for the self-destructive nature of their relationship, but there's no indication of that.  It seems to be there because Weis thought it would be dramatic or cool or what have you.  Dumb, dumb (just when I thought I could trust someone).

But perhaps you want to hear about the novel on a more stylistic level.  I must admit, I was curious; the last I'd read from Weis was that dreadful Dragonlance War of Souls trilogy.  I wanted to know: was this actually any good?  Or was I just a dumb kid when I idolized her so?  Well…even notwithstanding the problems I've enumerated, the writing is functional at best.  Occasionally Weis will try to be sorta cute, with unfortunate results, and there are occasional artless blobs of exposition tossed in.  Also, she likes her literary allusions, especially to Dickens, which invariably feel self-conscious and out-of-place.  I suppose it's nothing terrible, though.  Does what it needs to.

It probably sounds like I hated this book very intensely, but I actually kinda sorta loved it.  It moves fast, and in spite of and because they were so incredibly well-worn, the character tropes kinda charmed me.  The whole political melodrama won me over in spite of myself: there's an enthusiasm that I couldn't help but catch, clumsy though it is.  Mind you, I don't think I'd actually recommend it to anyone.  It's undeniable that a part of the appeal to me is pure nostalgia, and there's little doubt in my mind that you could and should do much better if you don't have that going for you.

King's Test (1991)

This one starts exactly where the last one left off.  A cynic might be forgiven for imagining that the whole thing was written as one big ol' book and then chopped into a trilogy for marketing purposes. 

The first hundred pages or so are concerned with the Alien Attack business, and then said aliens are pretty much gone and done with, never having left much of an impression.  The bulk of the book is concerned with the efforts of various characters to obtain this fearful weapon called a "rotation bomb," which, we are led to believe, can destroy whole star systems and might even rip apart the fabric of space-time and do a number on the entire universe.  Sagan initially commissioned it from an arms merchant named Snaga Ohme (uh oh--looks like George Lucas was brought in to ghost-write names), and he and Maigrey are both vying for it, along with an evil fellow named Abdiel, who was a priest of some sorta evil order in the old empire.  He's very old and stays alive via lots and lots of pills, and he mind-controls people to get his way, including an army of zombie-ish slaves.

The biggest thing I realized reading this--maybe it was already obvious in the first book, but it really came home to me here--is that Sagan's just a massive prick.  He's supposed to be an ambiguous anti-hero kind of guy, but he's really not: he's just an asshole.  His relationship with Maigrey can only be described as "emotionally abusive," and it's impossible to discern why his subordinates would be willing and eager to display such fanatical loyalty to him.  He wants this space rotation bomb to RULE THE GALAXY, presumably by threatening it with annihilation, but the only way this makes any sense is if he's meant to be an insane, evil nihilist--which he isn't.  I think.  You might well ask: isn't some of the bad stuff you're complaining about instances of him breaking his own code; ie, it's meant to make him seem non-admirable?  I think that is the case, but the thing is, there's just nothing admirable about him, so if there ever was a code, we sure don't get to see it.  What parts were we supposed to admire?  Even when we see him a few times in flashback, he's being his usual unpleasant self.  This character was a big swing and a miss on Weis' part.

Dion is also much worse in this volume: the whole "look how awesome he is" business is gone, but alas, it's mainly replaced with him whining about how he feels manipulated by Sagan and Maigrey, until the end, where he reasserts his awesomeness to show why he should be king and stuff.  It's clearly meant to be a Bildungsroman-type thing in that regard, but it just falls flat.  It's quite beyond me why anyone would want this guy to be king of anything.

The book's climactic action comes at Snaga Ohme's estate, where…wait, let's back up for a second.  The Snagster is a part of a race called "Adonians."  Let me tell you their characteristics: extremely good-looking, equally narcissistic, no interest in women, habitually refer to people as "darling" and "my pet."  The coding isn't exactly subtle.  Granted, this series was written twenty-plus years ago, but it's hard to see how this could possibly have seemed like a good idea even then (and yet, Snaga's equally-handsome adjutant is "rumored to be" his lover.  You shout GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY, and now you're getting all coy on us?  Really, now).

But anyway, he holds this yearly gala party/weapons trade show at his estate, and we are told in no uncertain terms that this is the social event to be at.  Only the crème de la crème are invited.  People have killed themselves for lack of an invitation.  Thousands of plebes line up to try to get a look in.  Reporters are swarming around everywhere to try to get interviews.  And this whole thing just gets more preposterous the more you think about it.  Here in the real world, the only trade conventions that attract substantial popular interest involve recreational electronics.  And yet, we're supposed to believe that people are foaming at the mouth to get into one devoted to industrial munitions?  And, for that matter, that the people interested in buying such things wouldn't prefer a certain amount of discretion?  What the hell are the interviewers supposed to be asking them?  "So, what kind of death machines are you planning on purchasing this year?"  The lack of thought that went into this is just boggling.

And that's that--except that then there's a bit where Maigrey has set this here rotation bomb to blow up (to defeat Abdiel, apparently), and Sagan can't get her to disarm it, but then Dion busts in saying, she told me the disarm codes; I'll tell you if you gimme it.  If not, not.  So ultimately, he does.  We subsequently learn that she was just funnin'; she never set the codes.  The idea was that Dion (who didn't know this) would do what he does, thus showing himself to be fit to rule, because a real king is a guy who's willing to murder god knows how many billions of people for no clear reason, right?  I mean, the answer, in the United States in 2012, is clearly "yes," but Weis clearly isn't trying to set Dion up in that manner, so it's just stupid as hell.  Indeed, the concentrated dumbness is filling me with rage.

The actual writing?  Well, it's much as it ever was, although Weis' high-school-ish literary allusions tended to grate on me more than they did last time.  The worst bit comes when some guard tells Sagan, of Maigrey, yeah, she's reading a book she asked us to bring her: it's Yeats' collected poems, and you--or I, at least--immediately think, oh god no please please PLEASE don't do what you're obviously going to do, that would be just so mortifying, but oh yes, she is going to, and a few pages later there's all the turning in gyres you could possibly want.  How could anybody possibly think you could take such an over-used poem to represent apocalypse, put no twist whatsoever on it, and still have it have an effect?  Dammit.  It's the equivalent of using  "O Fortuna" from the Carmina Burana in the preview for your horror movie.  You shouldn't do it if you have an ounce of self-respect.

And yet, I kept reading.  Sometimes against my better judgment, granted, but I was clearly pulled in at least to some extent.  It's hard to know why, though; there's just not much here that's praiseworthy.  The thing is, the first volume benefited from the nature of the whole exile/powerlessness narrative; there's a reason it's used in so many RPGs: even if it's not done all that well, it can't help but resonate.  Here, that's all gone.  I do give Weis credit for including a longish flashback to the night of the coup that overthrew the empire--it's not brilliant, but it's okay, and it's certainly more than certain well-regarded science-fiction authors we could name did when it came time for political upheaval.

King's Sacrifice (1991)

I was actually seriously debating whether or not I wanted to invest the time to finish this thing, but having come two thirds of the way through, I was determined to complete the nostalgic experience, dammit.  And as it turns out, King's Sacrifice is on balance rather better than the first two.  Which is not to say, mind you, that I'm not going to go on and on and on about its flaws.

So there are basically two plot threads here, the one concerning Dion, and the one Maigrey and Sagan.  In the first one, Dion's basically going on an extended publicity tour to convince everyone how awesome and rightful he is and how he should be king (no, it's not wholly clear what the end point of this strategy is).  Ultimately, things turn sour, and it's going to be necessary to raise an army to fight against the evil democracy, and Dion and his retinue stop on this viking-themed planet ruled by this one of their closest allies, "Bear Olefsky," from which to negotiate with some other hoped-for allies.  The tale of how he comes to the planet and reaches Bear's palace and so on feels weirdly pointless and over-extended, but then you realize what all this razzmatazz is for, and you just get annoyed.

Let me explain: seemingly out of nowhere, the book had been making a big thing about how Dion is super-jealous of Tusk and Nola's connubial bliss.  Let me emphasize that this was not even hinted at in the previous books.  What is the purpose of this? you wonder.  Well, do you suppose Bear has a daughter?  And do you suppose that we're meant to imagine that she's all big and hulking like his sons, but then she turns out to be hot?  And what do you suppose happens when she and Dion meet?  Golly.

Her name's Kamil, and--OBSCURE, DUMB VIDEOGAME JOKE AHEAD--I just so happen to have a picture of her:

Oh, yeah.  I'd hit that.

Now look: I don't think you need to be excessively cynical to think that a teenager getting engaged to the first person he falls for after knowing her for all of two days is maybe not the world's smartest idea.  But that's not what really rankles here.  See, after they've decided to get married and they're all super-happy and everything, it transpires that one of Dion's other would-be allies, this Amazon-queen-type, will only agree to help if Dion A) agrees to reinstate "goddess worship" as an official, uh, religion when he comes back to power; and B) to cement this deal--OMFG!!!--MARRY HER DAUGHTER!  OH NOES!  Oh, and make no mistake, we absolutely need this woman's help without her we're DOOMED and it can never come from anywhere else just forget about it.  KING'S SACRIFICE DO YOU SEE?!?  But the problem is, Kamil was so abruptly shoehorned into the narrative for the exclusive purpose of causing Dion to feel all emo-y about losing her that there's just no way to care, no matter how vehemently Weis insists on the depth of their love.  If she had introduced a love interest in the first book, and their relationship had been allowed to grow from there, then this here could be genuinely devastating.  As it is, you just think, oh, get the hell over it, already.  I mean, not that you necessarily want to be in an arranged marriage in any case, but the book makes no mention of this as a downside.  It's just all about Kamil.  At the very end, when he's about to marry this woman he doesn't love, he has a conversation where Bear's like, so, do you still love my daugher?  And he's like I'LL ALWAYS LOVE HER BLARGH but she'll find someone else; and Bear's like NO SHE LOVES YOU TOO SHE'LL NEVER FIND ANYONE ELSE (and if you think I might be unfairly characterizing this conversation, you are absolutely free to read the book yourself to verify).  It's just utterly ridiculous.  Perhaps a better writer could have presented this tiny non-relationship in a way that would make this conclusion seem reasonable, but this would have to be quite a writer, and it's certainly not Weis.

Hokay.  But the non-Dion part of the novel is quite a bit better.  So the idea is that Sagan's father is a priest who, in a moment of weakness, broke his vows of chastity, and bam, there's li'l Derek.  Pa was cold and absent, in part explaining his son's dickishness.  At any rate, he had thought the man dead, but it turns out he's still alive, which he learns from a priest who's there to convey this information to him.  But he's dying.  So he and said priest--Brother Fideles, known later on as Daniel--go to the isolated monastery to see him.  BUT.  It transpires that Abdiel and his "mind-dead" have gotten there first, disguised as monks, and there's a rather cool survival-horror-ish segment where they're inside this monastery, suspecting something's wrong but not quite being sure (granted, the audience knows pretty much exactly what's happening from the beginning, but it still works).  The upshot is, Sagan is captured by Abdiel, and Daniel is sent back with a message: he's taking Sagan to the Corasian galaxy!  He's going to dig the rotation bomb plans out of Sagan's brain and let the Corasians have them!  He wants Maigrey to come and try to stop him so he can get his revenge on the two of them!  Abdiel's motivations are far from clear here, let's note: first, he seemed to want to rule the galaxy--but now he's just straight-up giving this doomsday weapon to the people who he knows will use it to destroy the galaxy?  Wuh?

So Maigrey goes in after.  Her plan is to get into the Corasian galaxy by commandeering a big casino-ship and pretending that she's willing to sell it to the Corasians for food (Corasians eat humans, you know).  To this end, she recruits a number of allies, most notably a cyborg mercenary named Xris (that's a more extreme way of spelling "Chris") and his team.  Xris is cool.  That's all I got.  I know it's not exactly an analytic judgment, but it's true: his cyborg stuff (which he has for tragic-past-related reasons) is cool; and his gruff, Solid-Snake-like attitude is cool.  No, it's not cool in any particularly original way, but I'll take what I can get.  I like him.  I also like Raoul and the Little One, characters who had briefly appeared as employees of Snaga Ohme in the previous book, and who now want revenge for their former boss's death.  Raoul is another Adonian, of a sort who is constantly high and therefore all spacey and serene--but he's also a deadly poisoner when need be.  He's appealing, in spite of clearly being a multi-murderer, and his chemically-relaxed attitude in contrast to the other, more highly-strung characters is funny.  There's not much to say about the Little One; he's an empath who never speaks but only communicates with Raoul telepathically.  He's always bundled up in a raincoat or something so you can only see his eyes, not unlike a classic Final Fantasy black mage.

The stuff on the gambling ship is kind of interesting, except that there's a pointless subplot where Brother Daniel is tormented by love/lust for the imprisoned captain, as she tries to tempt him in order to wrest back control, only then she weally develops feewings for him, and, uh, then she leaves, and you have to wonder: the point of that was…?  Actually, there's no good justification for Daniel being along at all.  His role could and should have been substantially cut down.  OH WELL!

Okay, anyway, enough bullshit: they land on the relevant planet and infiltrate Abdiel's base.  I must admit, Abdiel's cartoonish evil does get a bit monotonous, and Weis clear did not fully think out this whole "telepathic communication" thing--he gets in people's minds, but who he can do this to and to what extent seems to be determined more by plot requirements than anything else (this applies to more than just Abdiel--Sagan, Maigrey, and Dion are constantly communicating--or not communicating--with one another in this fashion).  Still, the showdown's not bad.  Abdiel's wielding this evil weapon called a "serpent's tooth;" if you scratch someone with it, they get infected with this virus that causes them to just go on murderous rampages, while a part of their mind is still aware of itself and looks on in horror.  Bad scene, no doubt.  Abdiel's defeated more easily than one might've imagined, but, I am sorry to tell you, Maigrey is scratched by the serpent's tooth.  She can feel the demons approaching, trying to take over her mind; Sagan is able to fend them off long enough to get to the surface, but then he has to kill her before she completely loses it (thus fulfilling a vision he'd had).  Then, he goes to live a life of extreme asceticism in a monastery to atone for his assorted sins.  I must say, this part is actually done extremely well.  High tragedy.  It makes me keenly wish that the whole Maigrey/Sagan relationship--as well as plain ol' Sagan in general--had been done better throughout the trilogy.  Had that been the case, it would be even better.

Yes, sigh, Weis couldn't goddamn well let well enough alone, and a few years later she wrote a fourth book, Ghost Legion.  I read it back in the day, but if you think I'm going to reread it for the purposes of this trawl down memory canal, you are sadly misshapen.  But I will tell you that Maigrey's back, this time in ghosty form!  Also, Sagan comes back and then he dies and then the two of them get to be blue ghosts together.  Woo.  Not that there isn't a certain appeal to completely forced, unjustified happy endings, but fucking hell.  The first three books weren't good enough that calling this a "betrayal" doesn't seem a little hyperbolic, but still…I don't remember the book itself being especially "bad," per se--certainly not in the way that Legacy of the Darksword or the latter-day Weis & Hickman Dragonlance books are bad--but I think I will stick with the detailed, if disjointed, summary on Wikipedia.

Weis, in collaboration with her then-husband Don Perrin, went on to write a series of spin-off novels about the exploits of Xris and company (which includes Raoul and the Little One, now members of the team): Knights of the Black Earth (1995), Robot Blues (1996), and Hung Out (1998).  They're self-contained; there's no one overarching plot.  I remember thinking these were fun but slight; I'll admit I am a bit curious as to how they'd strike me now, but that's not happening anywhere in the foreseeable future.


In the above write-ups, I don't think I sufficiently emphasized how weird and disturbing the overarching anti-democratic vibe is.  The republic may be corrupt, but for fuck's sake; that's a reason to fix it, not a reason to switch to a friggin' absolute monarchy (well, maybe it's a constitutional monarchy--but if Dion is basically a figurehead like in England, I don't exactly see the point).  The whole "blood royal" eugenics thing also has obvious sinister undertones that are never explored.  I'm really not sure what Weis was thinking.  I suppose the only consolation is that the series isn't really good enough that anyone would be likely to take this stuff seriously.

But look: I must admit, in a totally non-rational, fuzzy way, I kinda sorta enjoyed rereading these things.  This is an idiosyncratic reaction that I wouldn't expect normal people to share.  But the really alarming prospect is this: if this wasn't very good, does that mean that the Weis & Hickman stuff that I really liked back in the day wasn't up to much either?  Dammit, that there Deathgate Cycle blew my mind.  But now I'm scared to revisit it, in case it sucks.  Well, there is one potential ray of hope: in a little afterword to King's Sacrifice, Weis writes that she actually started writing these some time ago; before the first Dragonlance books.  She finished the first two, she says, but they were terrible and nobody would publish them.  So later on she returned to them to rewrite them and make them less-bad (and I feel kind of guilty criticizing like I am, as she talks about how inspirational her editor, who died before the first book was published, was to her).  Question is: how much rewriting did she do, exactly?  Is it possible that she just didn't do enough?  The fact that the third book--which she apparently didn't write 'til later--is the best of the three lends credence to that theory.   Or maybe the conception was just so flawed that no amount was going to make it into something great?  One can only hope.

At any rate, it's still better than Dune.


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