Monday, February 18, 2008

DEBATABLE SPACE by Philip Palmer

Raven has finished reading DEBATABLE SPACE and has agreed to guest blog about it here. First, for some context, here's the blurb:

Flanagan (who is, for want of a better word, a pirate) has a plan. It seems relatively simple: kidnap Lena, the Cheo's daughter, demand a vast ransom for her safe return, sit back and wait.

Only the Cheo, despotic ruler of the known universe, isn't playing ball. Flanagan and his crew have seen this before, of course, but since they've learned a few tricks from the bad old days and since they know something about Lena that should make the plan foolproof, the Cheo's defiance is a major setback. It is a situation that calls for extreme measures.

Luckily, Flanagan has considerable experience in this area . . .

Now, here is Raven's review.

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I had mixed feelings about Philip Palmer's scifi novel DEBATABLE SPACE, which I finished last week. On the one hand, Palmer created a very detailed world - no, a very detailed universe, and I thought he did an amazing job with the political and social structure. As our society advances, I could conceivably see it developing in the directions he chose. I also liked the fact that his universe wasn't entirely Anglo, although many of the main characters were. And I was pleased because he carefully avoided one of my pet peeves in scifi: there were no computers or robots that came to life. Those always break my suspension of disbelief. But Palmer's speaking computer repeatedly reminds the person it's speaking to that it has been programmed to behave the way it does. In terms of robots, I loved what Palmer came up with: Doppelganger Robots, remotely controlled from elsewhere. You get all the power and invincibility of a machine, but a human is controlling it. These robots are also set up with sensors so the controlling human can virtually experience whatever the robot is doing. Naturally, this leads to abuses at times, but I won't spoil anything by going into detail.

I had no problems with the story. The main issue I had was with the characters, because I simply couldn't get connected to some of them emotionally. It's not that they weren't well developed, it's just that I didn't connect. I'm not entirely sure why not, because Palmer does a great job of putting the reader inside the heads of the various characters. He switches viewpoints a lot, but it's not confusing. When we're in their heads, we basically get a stream-of-consciousness flow of thoughts using each character's individual syntax and way of thinking. That was fine. I liked it. I think the problem for me may have been that Lena, the main character, wasn't very likable.

I'm all about antiheroes, but I couldn't find enough redeeming qualities in Lena. However, I think she's the kind of character other people might really enjoy: rounded, individual, well developed even if she's not likable. So I can't say Palmer did a bad job with her. It's just that she didn't work for me.

I did like most of the other characters. My favorite was Alby, a flame beast who basically looks like a pillar of fire. He was so unusual that I couldn't help finding him fascinating, and Palmer conveyed his alienness very well. Alby can never really understand humankind (and vice versa), but he's trying.

Overall, I think DEBATABLE SPACE is a good book, even if it didn't completely work for me. The reasons it didn't work for me were personal and had nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

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Thank you, Raven! Here are some links:

Philip Palmer (Website -- doubles as a blog)
Excerpt, Later Excerpt (scroll down)


Robert said...

Sorry you had mixed feelings about the book Raven, but I'm not surprised. "Debatable Space" is just one of those books that depends a lot on the reader, and opinions are going to vary wildly from one person to the next :) I still love it though!

Anonymous said...

Technically it's all fine, the plot works, structure is good, characters are rounded. Oh well, I guess the sum of the parts won't always add up to the same thing for all readers.

Now that I've reviewed it myself I can read other people's reviews. :)