Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Conquerors Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Googletalk conversation:
Me: "Wow I love Kolchin....*getting a quote for my review* When he made the slingshot out of the bed, I was just like W.T.F."
Snazel: "What the hell are you reading"

These books are good, solid sci-fi, and classic Zahn.
A human task force is attacked by an unknown alien contact, and all of the escape pods are systematically destroyed. The Cavanagh family are at first devastated at the death of their son and brother, Pheylan Cavanagh, captain of a task force ship, but are then given reason to believe Pheylan may be alive. The humans race to protect their worlds, and hope their ultimate weapon, CIRCE, will soon be re-assembled to help fight the aliens, called "Conquerors" from another alien species' folklore. But the Conquerors may not be as bloodthirsty and war-mongery (yes, war-mongery) as they seem.
First of all, I should say I love the way Zahn uses science in his books. He makes all of his tech and stuff seem completely realistic and believable and easy to understand while still being, well, complicated. I also love his wide array of characters, which usually includes soldiers, scientists, and diplomats, and this trilogy was no exception. It centers around Lord Stewart Cavanagh (ex-politician) and his children Aric (desk-jockey), Melinda (doctor), and Pheylan (ship captain), but there are plenty of alien majors and human/alien minors to flesh out the cast.
I mostly loved the way the trilogy is organized. The first book is completely from the humans' POV, the second book is completely from the aliens' POV, and the third is a combination of both. This was VERY cool, especially how well Zahn makes us empathize with both sides. But in the third book, a lot of cool minor human characters get shuffled off to the side, since there just isn't space (like Holloway, a human commander on a Conqueror-invaded world; I REALLY wanted to see more of him. Pout.). We mostly get the Cavanaghs and a lottttt of aliens. I liked the aliens, but in the third book it seemed like we got too much of them, and they were a little lacking in plot in the second book.
My other major complaint is the un-alienness of the aliens. In the first book, we didn't understand them at all. But once we get in their POV, they act EXACTLY like humans. That was part of the point, I guess, but still kind of odd; it seemed like they should differ from the humans in more than the odd gesture or word (eg "fullarc" for "day"). But then an author could go the other extreme and keep us from understanding or empathizing with the aliens at all, so there you go. Additionally, the fact that some aliens get humanized and others demonized (or at least we are made to show that they are Major Jerkfaces) was a little odd. Only SOME aliens are, underneath, just like us? Is that what we're saying here?
But even with those issues, WOW, these books are good! Battles, diplomacy, intrigue, plots, battles, dogfights, science research (am I the only one who likes scientific researchers as characters??? is that nerdy????), and OH EM GEE DID I MENTION THE COPPERHEADS?
The Copperheads are a branch of the human airforce (spaceforce???), where the pilots have "Mindjacks" surgically emplanted in their brains so they can literally link up with their fighter ships. I loved every single scene with these guys. The moral issues they raised, the chatter, the DOGFIGHTS....I love space dogfights.
There's a lot more plot stuff, especially alien-related, that I can't talk about without spoilering. But choices are a big deal in these books, and LOTS of ethical issues are raised.
Also, I have to gush a little bit about one character that I love. Kolchin is an ex-commando who works for the Cavanagh family. Every time Lord Cavanagh is in a tight spot, Kolchin gets him out. Every single thing he does in these books is awesome (often ridiculously). No jokes here, folks. Have a quote:

Cavanagh shook his head helplessly. Charades had never been his strong point, even within his own family. Trying to figure out the gestures and body language of a totally alien being was going to be well-nigh impossible.
"He's miming strangulation," Kolchin said suddenly. "Or else neck-breaking."

By the time he made the bed into a sling-shot, I was 100% certain he was bat-shit crazy.


Snazel said...

Thank you for mentioning the copperheads. I was about to SAY. DUDE. YOU FORGOT THE AWESOMENESS.

yes. I love this series. :D Kolchim is pro. And un-killable, which I approve of in my commandos. I think he's Haggerty's hero.

And I really liked all the backstory they keep referencing, especially on the human side? I thought for quite a while that this was the second part of a series, and I'd skipped the first part. I mean, I REALLY liked it. I was sad there wasn't as much on the alien side. :'(

Spartezda said...

I like the sound of this Kolchin...