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Carnival: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – November 28, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In this enjoyable, thought-provoking science fiction adventure, interspace ambassadors Vincent Katherinessen and Michelangelo Kusanagi-Jones have been sent by the Old Earth Colonial Coalition to the renegade planet of New Amazonia, a planet where women rule and men are kept as worker bees and house breeders. Because Old Earth treats its women as subservient, they have no female ambassadors, but Angelo and Vincent are gay—or "gentle"—and though they are shunned by the dictatorial government they serve, they're the only negotiators acceptable to the Amazonian rulers. The two men arrive ostensibly to return stolen art, a show of goodwill that will hopefully reopen long-stalled diplomacy between the two governments. In truth, they have been sent in an effort to secure, by any means necessary, the secret to the mysterious power source that runs Amazonia. Playing the deceitful powers against each other, however, Angelo and Vincent are really working toward an agenda of their own, one that will decide the fate of humanity itself. Like the best of speculative fiction, Bear has created a fascinating and complete universe that blends high-tech gadgetry with Old World adventure and political collusion. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Despite the scandal that clouded their last job together, AIs Michelangelo Kusanagi-Jones and Vincent Katherinessen have been reunited for a diplomatic mission to New Amazonia. Their ostensibly peaceful mission involves returning priceless art to previous owners, but they've also been sent to find out the secret of New Amazonia's seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. One of them is planning to ensure failure, which will be a blow to the Coalition and also the terrible assessments of the AI governors. New Amazonia challenges them, for while its gynocentric society, though not completely beloved by all, makes their maleness a handicap, their relationship, which is illegal back on Earth, is the only thing that allows them to be diplomats on New Amazonia. More than human politics are in play here, though, for the city, which was left behind by an unknown nonhuman intelligence, has secrets to hide. Bear's exploration of gender stereotypes and the characters' reactions to the rigid expectations of a world of strict gender roles proves fascinating, as does her exploration of political systems gone too far in more than one direction. Her sense of pacing and skill with multifaceted characters prone to all sorts of confused motivations and actions also enrich this action-packed, thought-provoking story. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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Smooth is the writing as well as (if only predictable) the plot twists; characterization is consistent even if some attempts at introspection had been better avoided as they just lead to confusion about feelings and motives.
This mistake is easily understood: Vincent and Angelo, the main characters, are in their sixties (even if it does not show on the outside) and have an extremely long relationship behind them: it is only too logical for Ms Bear to attempt to portray the complexity of feelings of such a long standing couple.
On the other hand these flaws do not get in the way and allow the readers to enjoy the trip if they do not set their expectations too high: Ms Bear avoids the excesses in world building and interaction so undigestible in much hard SF to prefer a simpler adventure driven approach.
Homosexuality is essential to the plot and sex is mentioned -clumsily- but the book can be safely read by older teens who will possibly appreciate the fine description of Amazonian society where women rule but are unable to avoid the same mistakes of their male counterparts in other planets.
Except, that is, on the planet called New Amazonia, where women rule and duel (heterosexual males are called "stud males" and are no better than slaves; homosexual males are called "gentle" and have more rights). The Coalition wants the planet's mysterious source of cheap energy so--not having women (which the New Amazonians would of course prefer) to throw into the fray--they send two gay men (former lovers at that) as ambassadors (make that spies) ostensibly charged with returning art taken from the New Amazonians, but actually to obtain, by hook or by crook they will, the source of the planet's cheap energy.
The two spies, Michelangelo Kusanagi-Jones and Vincent Katherinessen, each have their own agendas, as do the women who are members of New Amazonia's government, most notably Lesa Pretoria--a security chief for the government--who has her own view of things.
The story takes place during the planet's carnival, a word that, as a headnote tells us (and this proves important), is derived from the Old Italian carnelevare, which means "farewell to the flesh."
The book's all about the clashes--of culture (the men shun meat; the women wear guns), of agendas (everybody you'll encounter is out for themselves), of sexual relations. And it's subtle. Ms. Bear sets everything out logically, but her explanations for how things got this way are shadowy and indirect. She tosses out pieces of information about the worlds she's built in a sentence or two here and there, in a "by the way" fashion.
Then, too, there's the intricate plotting, which works like an old-fashioned clock. It takes plenty of winding to set it in motion, but once it gets going it flows along smoothly and logically.
It's a great read.
It starts out promising. Two male, homosexual, vegan protagonists, interstellar civilization, hyper-environmentalism, matriarchal civilization clashes with patriarchal one, nanotechnology. Lots of action, some sex, and interesting ideas about having pets. I could mention more, but that would spoil the plot.
However, there were too many implausible things about the matriarchal society and nanotechnology. If nanotechonology were replaced by magic, it would have not have affected the story. When I read SF, I can accept one or two items where I know I should suspend disbelief. This novel had too many.
My main complaint was the writing. I was not sucked into the world as I am in most good novels. There were too many things that jarred me out, making me aware that the writer messed up.
I enjoy SF that explores unusual social setups, so my initial reaction to a book about a pair of male homosexual agents representing Old Earth to a female-ruled society on New Amazonia was positive. However, if an author spins a new society, it is his or her responsibility to make it credible. Neither society was very believable for many reasons, e.g., on New Amazonia the males are dominated by the women to the point of slavery. Yet these same males are bred for combativeness so that they will perform well in the ritual combats. Is it believable that such males will tolerate this dominance?
None of the characters is sympathetic or interesting or fully developed. I didn't care what happened to any of them. This makes it difficult to sustain interest in the book.
Finally, the book just does not seem to be well written. The author too often introduces new ideas or terms or refers to previous events without explaining them. This was so striking that several people in our SF discussion group asked if this was a sequel to another book because so much was left unclear. A good SF writer is able to set up suspense in a way that intrigues rather than annoys and to fill in any background necessary to help the reader envision the world that is created.
In sum, unbelievable world-building, unsympathetic characters, and bad writing. That is why I say the cover was the best part!