February 12th, 2013


Patrick O'Brian, The Far Side of the World

This is book 10 in the Aubrey/Maturin series, which I am continuing to work my way through.

I thought I'd discussed this before, but I couldn't find it when I looked, so I'm going to mention it now. One of the things that I enjoy about the Aubrey/Maturin books is that they're very unpredictable. O'Brian doesn't follow a lot of standard narrative conventions, so the books have less of an episodic feel than a biographical one. The result is that being genre-savvy doesn't help much in anticipating what will happen next. I always know that Aubrey and Maturin will survive, of course, because there's another 10.25 books about them, but other than that pretty much anything could happen at any time. In a battle, the protagonists might win against difficult odds. Or they might flee. Or they might try to flee and get captured. And then escape. Or maybe get ransomed back. Or rescued. There's no predictable shape to the books; the great climactic battle might come at the end, or maybe it was in the middle. The events of the end may not have very much to do with earlier events. Plot threads may get introduced and lie about unresolved for multiple novels. Stuff Happens. When I was reading the first few, I found this disconcerting, but by now I've grown to enjoy it. Tightly-plotted modern novels that gloss over any events not intertwined with their central plot have their own appeal too, but there's something to be said for the sheer randomness of O'Brian's style. Sometimes it reminds me of an RPG in a way: you know how sometimes, the players will spend multiple hours working on a plan or an angle, only to have it prove utterly fruitless as some new thing happens that renders it moot? Or a string of freakish die rolls will hopelessly mess with PC and/or GM plans in a way no one anticipated? That's what Aubrey/Maturin novels are like.

Anyway, I will give this one my usual 8.

I started the 11th, but I may take a break on it and read the next Vorkosigan instead. The end of Aubrey/Maturin books has not been a good break point to stop reading for the last couple, so 'two chapters in' is starting to look like as good a place as any. :D