Visions of Paradise

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Scout's Progress

Scout’s Progress is the second novel in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden Universe omnibus Pilot’s Choice. Where the first novel in the book Local Custom is an elaborate novel-of-manners novel, this second book is basically a romance between Daav, the delm (head) of the most important family on Liad, and Aelliana, a brilliant mathematician who is kept subjugated by her brother, the egotistical nadelm (heir) of her own lesser family. Both of them have secret lives outside their families. Daav is an experienced spaceship pilot, a scout, who sneaks away from his family to work at a spaceship repair shop with some of his former mates from his days as a fulltime pilot. Aelliana wins a spaceship through gambling–using her mathematical talents to win the game–and begins training as a pilot under Daav with the goal of fleeing Liad entirely in her ship when she is fully certified as a pilot.

Daav, meanwhile, is betrothed to another woman, for the sake of his family’s future, a woman he neither loves nor particularly wants, but family duty has dictated the choice. That was fine before he met Aelliana when both of them started gradually and steadily becoming more and more attached emotionally.

Neither Daav nor Aellianna know the other’s real identity, so their individual plots weave in and out before finally meshing at the end. Occasionally the novel is frustrating as Daav and Aellianna’s secrecy complicates their situations, but never too much so. The novel’s ending is very fast-paced and dramatic as Aellianna’s situation with her brother reaches a critical and dangerous level.

My main complaint was the black-and-white nature of several characters in the book. Daav is too perfect as the head of his family, displaying few shades of gray even in his dilemma choosing between his betrothed and Aellianna. The worst character is Aellianna’s brother who is so totally evil as to be almost a charlatan. And the people at the repair shop display so much camaraderie and bonhomie serving as the stereotypical “nice guys” of the novel, creating a womb where both Daav and Aellianna could feel totally comfortable in their second home. Obviously the authors prefer the simpler, lower-class scouts to the upper-class members of the powerful families. Depth of characterization is not Lee & Miller’s strength as writers, although they are somewhat better at showing people in conflict (Daav and Aellianna).

From a purely personal viewpoint, this is one of the rare science fiction novels where a protagonist, Aellianna, is a mathematician, and that talent serves as both her major strength and, ultimately, her salvation. A math teacher myself, how could I not like such a character? Overall, I enjoyed Scout's Progress a lot, and I look forward to reading more novels in the series.


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