on May 23, 2001
_Ascendant Sun_, another in Catherine Asaro's "Skolian Empire" series, features Kelric (who was freed from his captivity on the female-dominated Coba at the end of _The Last Hawk_) and now finds himself heir apparent to the Skolian Empire. The trouble is, everybody thinks he's dead, and his "jagernaut" biological enhancements are failing. But of course, he seeks to regain power, although turns out to be yet another of Asaro's reluctant heroes (they always do what they have to do but they're seldom happy about having to do it) as he tries to pick up the pieces left by the destruction of the radiance war (told in _The Radiant Seas_).
Asaro writes like an outfielder who makes catching fly balls seem easy. About three-fourths of the way through the novel, Kelric seems to have completed one part of his quest when, at the end of a chapter he apparently stares into the face of his enemy (how _did_ he get there??!!). A sentence later, at the beginning of the next chapter, he thinks otherwise, and then discovers the truth--which turns out to be the key to the whole novel. Asaro does all this in half a page. Half a page!
The whole novel is filled with the same kind of faultless, seemingly effortless technique--you'll find in it good science, good sex, good adventure, and sassy AI's, to say nothing of good old plot, character, and action.
Like all the books in the series _Sun_ has an electric charge to it. This is what science fiction should be and seldom is any more. Grab it.
on June 15, 2000
Male-female relations are thoroughly explored in Asaro's Skolian Empire series. In this universe, humans are separated into three major political configurations-the Skolians, ruled by the Ruby Dynasty (a family of empaths who run the "psiberweb," a network of pure thought that permits fast interstellar travel, among other things), the Trader Concord, ruled by the cruel (and anti-empathic) Aristos, and the Allied Worlds of Earth, a.k.a. "us." The first two are descendants of humans removed from Earth c. 4,000 B.C. by an alien race and transplanted to the planet Raylicon. In those times, women were dominant and treated men as their slaves. That legacy lingers on (particularly in some backwaters, such as the planet Coba), alough in the Skolian and Trader empires the two sexes enjoy a rough equality. In fact, the hero of her latest hardcover, Ascendant Sun, often finds himself being treated as a sex object, a role reversal which Asaro handles quite nicely, avoiding cliched images of leather-clad dominatrices. Her men and women are both fully realized humans. When Asaro learned that I had just read Ascendant Sun, she laughed. "It's controversial, because of the sex scenes. Everyone focuses on that. But I was trying to say something with that book." The source of a lot of the confusion is the cover, which depicts the hero as a Fabio-like hunk. And in fact he is a hunk, but hardly a brainless one. Kelric, heir to the Skolian Empire, is an introspective empath who returns to Skolia from a long sojourn on matriarchal Coba, where he married several times and became the catalyst for a war to possess him (a tale chronicled in her first Kelric adventure The Last Hawk) only to be captured and enslaved by the sadistic Aristos, rulers of the Eubian Concord. As an outsider in a strange and repellant culture, he assumes the role of an anthropologist, collecting data through participant-observation, learning that the people he has known as enemies are more complex and more human than he had believed. As a moral being in a culture which does not share his morality, he makes the most honorable choices he can. The book depicts his struggle, not only to save humanity from its worst angels (embodied in the Trader Aristos) but to find his identity in situations in which his heredity and upbringing is sorely tested by circumstance. Asaro also explores the relationships between humans and their machines, particularly the increasingly permeable boundary which separates them. Throughout Ascendant Sun, Kelric must deal with all manner of machines, from the nanobots which maintain and heal his body to the giant starships which ply space. His dependence on machines mirrors our own. At the time of this writing, my own computer is down and has been for over two weeks, cutting me off from my e-mail contacts and keeping me from printing or accessing the Internet. I am reduced to using WordPerfect 5.1 on my laptop, without even a mouse for company. I can feel Kelric's frustration as at one point he stumbles and breaks his palmtop computer terminal, severing his link to a vital cybernetic helper. Whereas Kelric's people, the Skolians, have mastered the art of "biomech" in order to expand human capabilities, the Aristos have redefined the humans they enslave as living machines. To the Aristos (or most of them, anyway), only Aristos are human-the others are creatures to be subdued and put to the task of serving Aristos. Yet Kelric learns that the Aristos, while deriving pleasure from the pain of their psion slaves-"providers"-are capable of love toward them. He also learns that the differences between his people and the Aristos go deeper than he had imagined, into their very way of thinking, and manifest in unexpected ways. Asaro's treatment of the body reflects a sensitivity which probably relates to her ballet training. Throughout the book are little sensory details we experience everyday-the numbness of prolonged pressure on a thigh, the discomfort of certain kinds of clothing, the pleasurable sensation of other kinds. Great care is paid to the movements and posture of the characters as they move through their world, bringing us along for the ride. The sexual encounters feel natural as well, never forced, cute, or exploitative. Perhaps because Asaro herself is a bridge builder between apparently opposing realms-male/female, science/art, intellect/emotion-she has constructed a vision in which two sides of humanity, Skolian and Aristo, are able to come together, both at the peace table and even physically. Kelric's adventures are instrumental in making this happen. To go further would be to give too much away, especially for those unfamiliar with Asaro's other books. The natural solution, of course, is to read all of them first! I will admit that, as a newcomer to Asaro's work, I was a little disoriented when I first entered the world of Ascendant Sun. It is, after all, the sequel to The Last Hawk, and the fifth novel in the Skolian Empire saga. However, compelling characterization, driving narrative, and deft description soon remedied that. I found myself actually caring about the fate of the people in this book, wanting Kelric to win through and escape the clutches of the Aristos. Her writing is full of poetry, whether specifically identified as such or not. Others have noticed this, too. "People say I'm a poet because there's poetry in my books. I'm very flattered when people say that." As an editor, I have become somewhat jaded by wading through floods of submissions, but this one moved me. That is a rare thing these days.
on May 23, 2000
I have to tell you I am hooked on Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire and all her glorious larger than life characters. It is a fantastic story of high-tech (I don't know how she does it, but I am fascinated!), intergalactic characters that fill you with wonder, and terrific romance that makes for an unbeatable combination that reels you into the story.
ASCENDANT SUN is the fifth book in the series about Kelric, the youngest son of Roca and Eldrinson, who belongs to the Ruby Dynasty. Kelric's story is told in the novels THE LAST HAWK and ASCENDANT SUN. You are going to love this golden man who is large, strong, extremely intelligent and a magnificent male. He generates more action and adventure in this story as he has escaped from the planet of Coba where he was imprisoned by some powerful women (THE LAST HAWK) who went to war over him in a role reversal of the Helen of Troy story.
After eighteen years he escapes and returns to Skolian space to discover everything has changed, and the Allied Forces of Earth, due to the upheaval of the Radiance War control the Empire. He only has the clothes on his back, his intelligence and ingenuity to get him through the danger he's in. I was awed by his ability to turn this around to serve his purpose of escaping and doing everything he could to preserve himself and his integrity. I loved all the scientific dialogue between Kelric and,Bolt, a computer inside of Kelric, and the interaction between the two when dealing with life threatening situations.
Kelric is auctioned as a slave "provider" to the cruel Aristos that are after him for his beauty, intelligence and superior abilities. He is a much-coveted prize. Kelric is a man who doesn't like everything he has to do but he has to be flexible and overcome great obstacles to accomplish his goal of saving his people and reclaiming his title. The man is truly amazing. His kindness and caring for people shines throughout the book like a beacon of peace and strength. He is a warrior and a peacemaker, which makes for a terrific negotiator and ruler.
Wait until you meet all the extraordinary people that make you want to know the entire story. I especially liked Jeejon, a woman who felt compassion for Kelric and went out of her way to help him when she was his last hope of reaching safety. By dong so she is given a gift she never dreamed could happen to her in a trillion years.
The end of this book sets up the premise for the next stellar read. This is one humdinger of a saga you don't want to miss. If you haven't read it, order it and the other books on Amazon.com. You won't be disappointed.
Ms. Asaro does an excellent job of giving you all the scientific facts blended with high adventure that keeps you on the edge of a cliff. It sometimes makes you think of free falling with all the exhilarating excitement that it entails as you travel through the galaxy. To me these books are classics.
on March 18, 2000
While Ascendant Sun concludes a handful of plotlines from The Last Hawk and Radiant Seas, it evolves the Skolian/Eubian/Allied politcal atmosphere into a scenario of both hope and potential disaster. Since the novel's plot begins where The Radiant Seas and The Last Hawk left off, Ruby Dynasty fans will find Ascendant Sun an important link in an ever growing plot. Because the protagonist enters an unfamiliar environment, new fans will be able to learn about recent events through his eyes.
After reading the Quantum Rose, I thought this novel would cover the complete stretch of time between The Radiant Seas and Vyrl's story. Instead, the novel's focus revolves around Kelric and his immediate events. Unfortunately we only get a glimpse of Jaibriol III's, or Dehya's stories. Ascendant Sun implies major events are happening with both characters, but these moments remain to be told. The book focuses heavily on Kelric's sex life instead. I don't like Kelric's unwavering determination, and brashness, which compliments Jai's reserved and mature personality. This novel also introduces Tarquine, a complex and brilliant character who gives us a new view on Aristo life. Ascendant Sun left me wanting more. Catherine Asaro's stories weave together in a fashion similar to her characters' family tree. Her timeline lists a story called Spherical Harmonic which I assume revolves around Dehya and psiberspace. With this story and the second half of Quantum Rose, I wonder if we will hear Jai's tale.
on February 20, 2000
After spending nearly two decades as a prisoner on Coba, Kelric finally escapes. However, during his incarceration many changes occurred in his family's Empire. The Radiance War has left Kelric's kin either dead or imprisoned by the Allied forces of Earth, who now rule the Skoalian Empire. The powerful telepathic communication link between Skoalian, Eubian, and Aristo has collapsed.
Into that void, Kelric, now the heir to the Skoalian Empire flees by accepting a job on a merchant vessel, but he is captured by the Aristo, who also hold his brother prisoner. The Aristo plan to use the siblings to open the Lock to the time-space continuum portal that will make them the most powerful beings in the universe. Kelric is the only hope to stop this dastardly plan of universal domination.
ASCENDANT SUN, the fifth novel in Catherine Asaro's fabulous Skoalian Empire saga, is an exciting and enthralling work of science fiction. The primary story line is crisp and never slows down for a nanosecond. Kelric is a wonderful hero whose previous struggles (see THE LAST HAWK) seem soft compared to his current troubles. Though newcomers will be lost with the complexities of the tale, they, like series fans, will become gripped by the lightning speed of the action and the radiant vastness of the plot, sending new readers searching for the previous novels. Ms. Asaro continues to rise in ascendancy to the apogee of the science fiction universe with this triumphant novel.