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Eragon and At the Edge of Space

I've finally worked my way through the book that I was reading when Nathan was born, 'At the Edge of Space' by CJ Cherryh.

Cherryh has long been one of my favourite authors and this compilation was an opportunity to discover two of her earlier works which I'm not familiar with. She has never been an easy author to read, often taking up to fifty pages for the story to really take a grip. This is partly a result of the way that she tends to write novels from a very narrow viewpoint. They are written from the perspective of the principle character, and the read discovers what is happening as the character does. There is virtually no narrative exposition of the plot-line to expand and fill in; you get to live it as the person who you are reading about does. Both of the novels within the book explore a theme that Cherryh has returned to time and time again; the experience of being a stranger in a different culture.

In the first book, Brothers of Earth, two human survivors from opposing warring factions need to integrate into an alien culture more backward than their own to survive. In the second book, Hunter of Worlds, the principle character is an alien who has been kidnapped by the extremely powerful race which used to rule his world. He has to make sure a human in a similar position also integrates, because failure could result in the death of a human world. This is a clever set up with nested levels of isolation and difference from the dominant culture.

Both novels in the books are a very satisfying and enjoyable read, but demand that the reader becomes absorbed with the character's plight. Fortunately, that isn't too difficult. Lightweight, it isn't. This is hard SF with good characterisation and plotlines.

The next book I've read is very different to At the Edge of Space; I've had it for far too long and feel relieved that I've finally read it, if only so I can stop being sheepish about it every time I see my mother, who bought it for me perhaps 2 years ago.

It is, of course, Eragon by Christopher Paolini. The first thing to say about this is that it isn't literature! It's much more in the tradition of a pulp fantasy novel of the type that seems to fill thousands of turgid trilogies. However, it was a surprisingly fun, if lightweight read. The writing does – at some points – feel like it is an English Language writing assignment as there is a lack of a natural rhythm to it, but it is very fresh and energetic. However, as Paolini wrote this when he was 15, and has been successfully published (albeit initially by his parent's publishing house), I don't feel I can criticise this too heavily.

It held my interest, which is a big plus, and in parts it reminded me of David Eddings' early books in the Belgariad before his writing became bloated and repetitive. That is a compliment in my mind, as there are few people who have written as approachable fantasy as Eddings. However, it doesn't quite hit the same levels as the Belgariad, and it does feel very deriative in other parts. This isn't to the point of plaigarism, but rather to the point of feeling like it's a teenage Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's first home-built game world made up of all his favourite fantasy stories stuck in a blender. The other authors that particularly called out to me in the text were Tolkien (with a resemblance to the city of Gondolin in The Silmarillion) and Anne McCaffrey (with her Pern books). For all the comments I make here, I would like to read the sequel to this – Eldest – sometime, if only to see if the plot signposts are as obvious as I think they are!

Dom 22/4/2007