Friday, March 04, 2016

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, Championship Round :: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord vs. The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke

We have arrived at the championship round of our current bracket of the Battle of the Books. In one corner we have The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. In the other corner we have The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke. Two fine books. I (Jackie) have read through Page 200 of both these books, and the novel I most want to continue reading to the end will be the champion of Bracket One of the Fantastic Reviews Battle of the 2013 Books.

The Best of All Possible Worlds:  Del Rey; February 2013; 306 pages; book design by Victoria Wong. Keren Lord's debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, was published in 2010 and won the Frank Collymore Literary Prize in Barbados.

The Best of All Possible Worlds defeated 23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd in the first round, overpowered The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi by Mark Hodder in the second round, and got past Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks in the semifinal round to reach the championship.

In the first 200 pages of The Best of All Possible Worlds, we learn that the Sadiri are people with advanced mental capacities; they share a low-level telepathic bond. Many men travel off-world but the females mostly stay on the planet. When their planet is poisoned, killing everyone, the off-world men must come up with a plan for their race to survive. "Councillor" Dllenahkh was off-world on a meditation retreat when the planet-wide genocide occurred. He is sent on a mission to the planet Cygnus Beta to decide what might be done.

Dllenahkh meets biotechnician Delarua of Cygnus Beta who has studied the Sadiri language and society. She's the perfect Cygnian government worker to accompany Dllenahkh and to introduce him to the different settlements. Delarua discovers that Dllenahkh is looking for women with Sadiri genetic heritage, and hopes that many of the women will volunteer to become wives and bear offspring so that the Sadiri mental abilities and customs can survive.

A group is gathered to travel the world for a year to make genetic tests at the various settlements on Cygnus Beta. The settlements have varied cultures, which feel like different worlds. One settlement, on the Kir'tahsg Islands, has a caste system. Delarua is notified that the settlement's elite deal in slave trading and treat the poor people abhorrently, which is against rules and regulation of Cygnus Beta. Delarua, without the settlement's approval, illegally tests the servants' and workers' blood and discovers a cruel fact. In order to fix the problem, Delarua must let her government know what she's done, which causes her to lose her government job. Dllenahkh then hires Delarua to continue working for the Sadiri because of her "insightfulness concerning Sadiri society."

Delarua is happy to stay with the group and works hard at the new job. She needs to use drug patches to keep herself awake. She finds it difficult because Sadiri need less sleep than Terrans. At another settlement, Delarua and group member Nasiha are attacked. The chemical used to try to subdue them interacts with Delarua's drug patches. Her short term memory is affected. Dllenahkh and Delarua are becoming closer.

The Cusanus Game:  Tor, English translation September 2013; originally published in 2005 in Germany; 538 pages; translator: Ross Benjamin. Wolfgang Jeschle was a German science fiction writer who also wrote Last Day of Creation.

The Cusanus Game overpowered The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd in the first round, won a decision over The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick in the second round, and got past Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson in the semifinal round to reach the championship.

The prologue in The Cusanus Game takes place in 1425. Caravan Leader Emilio meets with a starship from the future, the 21st century, to trade goods. Bahktir, part of the caravan, learns his son Hakim was killed while trying to enter the area where past and future meets.

In the mid-21st century, botany student Domenica is in her last year of college in Rome. The nuclear war of 2052 in Germany has affected all of Europe. Factions are still fighting in Italy. Genetic mutations occur among people and plants. People are trying to survive in a violent and scary world.

Domenica and some friends apply for a job with the Rinascita Project. Domenica is not sure what the job is about but they need a botanist and jobs are hard to find. She ends up getting the job with four other friends, including a theoretical physicist and a medieval historian. Domenica's ex-boyfriend Bernd and his sister turn down the job offer because they think bad things will come from this project. Domenica and the others taking the job travel to Venice for more testing and orientation.

In this future, nanotechnology is used in various ways, and not all are favorable. Nanos that are meant to bolster the wooden pilings that hold up Venice will occasionally get ingested by fish and, to the fishermen's disgust, the fish morph into wood. The scientists created an ice border around Venice to keep the nanos confined, but now the nanos have penetrated the border and are damaging the environment.

In the mid-1400s, Caravan leader Emilio and Bahktir are ready to meet the starship from the future to trade goods. Bahktir's son Hakim is still alive in this timeline. Emilio and Bahktir go to the ship and see Hakim with broken bones prone on a wheeled stretcher. The starship liaison says they will take Hakim to a clinic in Mantua to get him healed. Bahktir can get him the next time they trade goods.

Domenica learns that she will travel to the 1400s to gather seeds and plants and bring them back to her time. In this timeline, 1400s Cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus learns that a witch who collects seeds and plants and labels them with strange Latin names is going to be burned at the stake.

The Battle:  We have the galaxy-spanning science fiction epic The Best of All Possible Worlds vying to become champion against The Cusanus Game, a futuristic science fiction novel that involves nuclear disaster and time travel.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds, I find the idea of searching for mates with the right genetic heritage weird, but the storyline makes it seem plausible: 1) the genocide on the planet Sadira and 2) the desire of the government of Cygnus Beta to have more information about the settlements on the planet. As the group travels around Cygnus Beta, which was described as "a galactic hinterland of pioneers and refugees," their interactions with the varied subcultures are believable. Some settlements are downright strange.

One settlement is hidden, a monastery with Sidiri monks, both men and women, whose mental abilities surpass the Sidiri. Telepathy and telekinesis are the norm for them. At one point, Dllenahkh and Delarua, with the help of a Sidiri monk, walk across a fast moving creek and fly down into a valley.

Humor is sprinkled throughout the book. Delarua must translate between Dllenahkh and the Faerie Queen, a forest settlement leader. Delarua unknowingly tones it down a bit, sounding more like an emotionless Sadiri than herself, jealous with their interaction. Delarua discovers that Sadiri send their bad people off-planet. She realizes that the Sidiri on her world and elsewhere are "diplomats and judges, pilots and scientists, nuns and monks...and jailbirds." Delarua is a hoot!

The characters are fleshed out and believable, and I like them. The Sadiri have mental abilities and they push emotions away, like Spock on Star Trek. Some of their interactions can be amusing.

I need to mention the proliferation of names and diseases beginning with the letter "D." It simply annoys me.

The Cusanus Game seemed better to me in the second hundred pages, probably because there weren't as many time switches. In the first hundred pages, we switched back and forth from Domenica's present to her past one year earlier more often than I would have liked.

The Cusanus Game is well written and offers scientific explanations behind the ability to time jump backwards and to the present, never into the future. Simply put, "we produce the match, which aligns the here and now with the there and then." But don't let that tiny bit of simplicity fool you. Discussions about solitons, quantum physics, particle waves, space-time, "nanos," and other scientific verbiage fill pages and pages, most of which makes sense. It's interesting stuff, and I love reading about quantum physics.

Domenica doesn't seem to catch on to the hologram experience, which she would if she were more observant. She's taken into a simulation and she goes through the whole thing not realizing that it was fake, even though clues hit her in the face throughout. She seems oblivious even though her ex-boyfriend told her time travel was involved in the project. Domenica seemed intelligent and compassionate to me earlier in the book. Now she seems dense. Unfortunately, I don't feel connected to the characters in The Cusanus Game.

Descriptions in The Cusanus Game in some parts are masterpieces, yet in others seem overdone or confusing. I also find some descriptions both fascinating and frustrating, such as in a description Domenica gives of a mechanical wheel-chair:
It looked like an armchair spun out of strong silver wire, or rather a wicker beach chair...with the undulating movements of its wire bristles or tentacles or whatever the winding, surging, thin tendrils of flexible steel wire should be called...
I think the description should be exact to help the reader visualize because, to me, armchair and beach chair are very different, as are wire bristles and tendrils. I'd prefer a more exact simplified description. This book was originally written in German, which might account for this type of overlap.

This book is not a fast read; challenging time flips, beautiful prose with some confusing storylines, and interesting science cannot be skimmed.

There's a gift in writing time travel and this book does a great job. Many chapters begin with a different time period. After 200 pages, we're seeing that history is already changing. I'm curious to see what happens, and I look forward to figuring out why the past now has different outcomes. Will Domenica burn at the stake when she goes back in time? What havoc does Emilio plan to create when the spaceship brings back a healed Hakim?

The winner of this match of Battle of the Books will be the champion of the 16 books placed in this bracket. I (Jackie), after reading 200 pages of each book in this last battle, have a difficult decision to make because both books have their positives and negatives. However, I find myself drawn to the book where I like the characters enough to read about what happens to them and that also suggests that a possible romance is afoot. Despite that last revelation, which I do so grudgingly, I plan to finish reading both books. Well done I say to these two novels!

THE WINNER: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible Worlds wins Bracket One of the Fantastic Reviews Battle of the 2013 Books. Congratulations to Karen Lord as our newest Battle of the Books champion!

To see the completed bracket, click here.

We've crowned a winner for this bracket, but soon we'll announce a whole new bracket of sixteen books. Aaron will be judging the next bracket of Battle of the Books. Stay tuned for more book battles to come!

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