So, Toby had a little contest, where he asked for captions for this picture of Pat Rothfuss in cat ears.
I’m not normally a contest sort of guy, but the prize this time was a copy of Sly Mongoose. I’m a fan of Toby’s work and had bought Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin in hardback, but my income has been a bit constrained since I became a full-time writer. I’ve cut back on book purchases, and Sly Mongoose was among the things I’d have liked to buy but hadn’t. So, I entered (with the caption shown), and I won!
When the book came, I set aside Anathem to read it right away. (Seriously. As I said, I like Toby’s work.) Here’s some thoughts.
I’m always a little cautious of books about a hyper-competent hero. It’s a kind of story that’s hard to do well. To provide some dramatic tension you either need hyper-competent villain or else you need to cripple your hero.
There’s nothing wrong with doing those things–you just need to do them in an interesting way. Toby’s efforts to cripple Pepper (both physically and emotionally) serve the purpose in a craftsmanlike way. But his villains are where the story really comes to life.
The floating cities of Chilo are in opposition, because it’s a hard place for humans to live–some are doing pretty well, while others are just getting by. In the greater universe, the Ragamuffins are in opposition to the Human League, because they have different visions for human progress. They’re both opposed to the alien Satraps (because they have a really different vision for human progress), but not every human is, because the aliens have a lot to offer an individual human. I’ll let you read the book to find out just whom the zombies are in opposition to (although I expect you can make a pretty good guess).
Because I’m me, I always notice whether a novel has the economic underpinnings done well, and Toby does a great job with that–the tough life in the floating city of Yatapek, and the better life in some of the more prosperous cities. It’s good stuff–illuminating the story, while staying in the background where it belongs.
If you like space opera, big battles, spiffy weapons, cool aliens (and cool alien places), and stories of tough people doing their best in difficult circumstances, Sly Mongoose is one of the best new books out there. Zombies are just an extra special bonus.
[Updated 2011-03-30: Because a lot of people come to this post on searches about Patrick Rothfuss, I wanted to mention that I talk a bit about him and his writing in my post Characters who learn.]