Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ex Libris: Chris Roberson's The Dragon's Nine Sons

charles once told me I favored concept over execution when reading a book. To be honest, I do admit that concept plays a big part for me when deciding what story I want to read. However, I look at the overall story elements when reading and Chris Roberson's The Dragon's Nine Sons is no exception.

At the onset, Roberson's book seems like a winner. He posits here an alternate history of the world of the Celestial Empire, a history wherein China had expanded throughout the world and the first to go into space. This is also a future wherein the only adversary China had was a bloodthirsty Aztec empire, the Mexic Dominion, and the series of conflict between these solar powers is downright explosive.

So when the Chinese intelligence discovers the secret Aztec base on a floating asteroid from which raiding parties are being launched against their bases in Mars, they decide to send a suicide squad to blow it up. This is the story of the group, comprised of a dirty dozen (well, nine of them anyway) of characters facing execution due to capital crimes, who are sent behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, the crew discovers prisoners of war on the Aztec military base and they have to decide between the success of their mission... or the redemption of their souls.

Roberson obviously is having great fun with the whole concept. Where else can you have a Japanese ninja and an American gunslinging cowboy part of a Chinese suicide squad? Where else can you have an empire that believes Aztec ritual blood-letting is an integral part of starting their space crafts? Concept-wise, Roberson bats this pitch out of the ball park and this is why he will always rate high on my radar.

Unfortunately, the prose is where I (and dean, I suppose) have some problems. Throughout the book, the narrative trips because of the clumsy writing and if not for the fact that I know Roberson has written several books prior to this, I would have thought this was his first output. Likewise, I've read another of Roberson's books, Paragea, and he doesn't write this badly, making me think that he was aiming a certain writing style for this one. Unfortunately, it failed for me. (Am still looking excerpts online to prove my point but no luck there.)

So, I barely managed to finish reading this book but only on the basis of wanting to know what happened in the end. Alas, reading bad prose is akin to walking on hot sand: it may be summer and being on the beach is fine, but its torture to get to the good parts. I'll still check out the next Roberson book but I hope it won't be written as badly as this.

Ironically, this is the second Solaris book I read and the cover looks lovely, but only the first of their publication that I barely liked. I hope to have better luck with their output. (Rating: 2 paws out of 4)


Dean said...

I'm a big fan of Roberson's short fiction, especially his stories set in his version of ancient China, but this novel was poorly executed in discourse terms. He's very good in short form, not so much novel-length. I was very disappointed.

banzai cat said...

Haven't read any of short stories yet, alas, which makes me wonder if he's going to have a collection soon. But I've read Paragea and it wasn't bad as this one.

Will you be skipping his other novel works?