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Friday, September 23, 2011

Catherine Asaro

I don't know what to make of Catherine Asaro. Or rather, I don't know what to make of my reaction to her writing. Asaro is one of those annoyingly gifted polymaths, a ballet dancer/physicist. She writes reasonably hard SF novels and short stories in the space opera mold: the Saga of the Skolian Empire. Her justifications for faster-than-light travel and communications are grounded in her scientific work, and yet her books have also garnered attention and awards from the romance novel community - a genre I've never been particularly fond of.

I've read every science fiction novel Asaro's written because I appreciate her plotting and characterization. Her prose is fluid and cohesive, her stories interesting, the political issues compelling.

And yet some of her habits grate on me. Nearly all of her characters, male and female, are astonishingly beautiful, and described in sometimes gag-inducing detail - it reminds me a little of bad fan fiction. Sometimes if feels like she devotes pages of text to hair colour and curliness, skin tone, eye colour, musculature, bosom and bum size, etc. Clothing is uniformly skimpy and/or skintight. And clearly Asaro's favourite colour is gold: gold eyes, gold hair, gold skin, gold jewelry...

Nearly all of her main characters are royalty of some kind - princes, kings, princesses, pharoahs. Not much room for the common man in her world, although to be fair, many of her supporting characters are well-drawn ordinary citizens. It just seems as though Asaro is so accomplished in her own personal life that her characters are the same way - too perfect. Many of her female characters seem like idealized versions of Asaro herself, but a lot of authors have that failing; it's hard to hold it against her, but it does get a little distracting.

Still, I keep coming back to read more. Her latest novel, Diamond Star, tells the story of a prince marooned on Earth who wants to be a rock star. I thought for sure I'd hate this book, since it seemed destined to emphasize Asaro's weaknesses and play down her strengths. But darned if she hasn't won me over again by throwing some unexpected obstacles in her hero's path and by creating a cast of likable supporting players. As annoying as I find some of her stylistic tricks, I can't help but like her characters; I root for them.

Asaro's first novel, Primary Inversion, was published in 1995. Yikes. That means I've been following this story for sixteen years. Occasionally annoying or not, she keeps pulling me in for more.


Never for Ever said...

I just read Primary Inversion (it was a free ebook) and that was my first Asaro book. Been skipping past eh A's for too long since I got tired of P. Anthony so I'd never giver her a shot.

Now I don't know what to do. It was pretty good (although I think she forgot the ending) but not quite good enough for me to slog through the whole disjointed Skolian saga.

I guess I'll wait for some cheap books to come my way before delving any further into Ms Asaro's universe...

Earl J. Woods said...

I think it's worth following at least the main books in the series: The Last Hawk, The Radiant Seas, Spherical Harmonic...I know how you feel, though. She doesn't feel quite top-tier, but she does draw me back time and time again.