A friend recommended me Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s Liaden books. The first question, reading order, was not very easy to find an answer to. I went with publication order within the Agent of Change sequence – Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem, Plan B, and I Dare. In retrospect it would have been better to start with Conflict of Honors followed by Agent of Change, as this corresponds to story chronology, and AoC and CD have the same protagonists while CoH doesn’t. The story speed between Plan B and I Dare was too fast to break the sequence, but it might have made the latter book fuller if I had read the first batch of prequels Local Custom and Scout’s Progress before it. The second prequel sequence Crystal Soldier and Crystal Dragon works well at any point in the series, as does the third (single-book) prequel sequence Balance of Trade. I’m still reading Fledgling and the first short story collection.
Confusing? I thought so, but it definitely is worth the investment. Instead of all the usual superlatives, I’ll say something unique to this series: These books changed my perspective in that I now cannot read (in any fiction) about a character bowing without asking in my head “in which mode, dammit!?”. (Update on 8th June: The friend referred to above, after reading this section, said (I paraphrase): “In the peculiar mode of humans, of course”.)
The Liaden books are romances in a (very good) science-fictional setting. With two exceptions, each book creates at least one new lifetime romantic pairing, and they’re in my opinion convincing romances. One of the exceptions deepens one of the earlier relationships, so there is no lack of romance there.
The only place I know where one can get all the novels reliably is Webscriptions, as e-books. Some of the paper books seem to be hard to find, and the recent closing down of the main publisher Meisha Merlin cannot help there.
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The promotional material for The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle includes a quote by Robert Heinlein:
Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read. It is hard for me to disagree with that statement (including the qualifier, in all honesty), having recently read this book.
Mote is a complex first-contact story, set in Pournelle’s alternate history (originally future history) universe. It begins in the year 3017. The recently created Second Empire of Man gets a visit from the aliens, leading to a counter-visit by humans to the aliens’ star system. The aliens seem friendly, but are they? What could they possibly be hiding? In retrospect, the Moties remind me (in style, not in detail) of Orson Scott Card’s Piggies (Speaker for the Dead and sequels); I would be surprised if Card had not read this book before writing his.
The sequel, The Gripping Hand is not the masterpiece that Mote is, but I had no trouble enjoying it. The solution to the Motie problem has held for decades, but it won’t hold forever, and it might actually be breaking down now. The mission: save both humans and Moties from an eventual assured mutual destruction.
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I actually started reading Pournelle’s alternate/future history from the cronological beginning. This is another series where reading order becomes a complicated matter, as many of the books tell parallel subthreads of the story; and it becomes even more complicated by the fact that there is an omnibus edition in which the story is told in chronological order, this having been accomplished by breaking the books down into chunks and then arranging the chunks in chronological order.
My reading order went as follows: West of Honor, The Mercenary, Prince of Mercenaries, Go Tell the Spartans and Prince of Sparta. This is a good reading order; my only problem with it is that the protagonist of West of Honor fails to appear in most of the other books.
The following is not in my opinion a real spoiler, even though it reveals certain key events of the series. The premise is that sometime between the 1970’s and the early decades of the 21st Century the United States and the Soviet Union form a union, called the CoDominium, which dominates the international politics of the Earth for most of the 21st Century. In early 21st Century, faster-than-light travel is discovered, and the CoDominium starts to colonise other star systems, first with voluntary colonists and then with convicts and involuntary colonists. The series takes place in the final decades of CoDominium, and focuses on the actions of one John Christian Falkenberg (though he is not the protagonist of all the books), first as an officer in the CoDominium (extraterrestrial) military, and then as the Colonel of a mercenary outfit, Falkenberg’s Legion. The Legion is at the center of events that eventually (after the events described in these books) leads to the creation of the first Empire of Man.
The books are entertaining military science fiction, solid, enjoyable journeyman pieces.