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The Skill of Our Hands: A Novel (The…
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The Skill of Our Hands: A Novel (The Incrementalists)

by Steven Brust, Skyler White (Author)

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This is a good contemporary example of Littérature engagée.

We have become used to a discourse in which, because it is asserted that everything is political, and because many works elicit strong personal reactions because of traits which align them with one side or another in the culture wars, we tend to forget what fully engaged political works are actually like.

Regardless of whether culture warriors get worked up about them, works which are "political" mainly in the sense that they have diverse leading characters and display more polities than simply feudal ones in their fantasy/future worlds are not political, or at least engagedly political, in the same sense that, say Uncle Tom's Cabin was, or indeed Paradise Lost.

By contrast, The Skill of our Hands is very much an engaged book - oddly, even more on its publication than when it was being written.

At the time of its composition, its authors could not have known that it would be published amid a flurry of executive orders on immigration and deportation. They did know that the Obama Administration has increased markedly the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants, and that the general militarization of the police - a continuing trend not only in the US but more generally - was at its apex in the south.

It is explicitly an engaged work: it is about resistance; it layers the undocumented immigrant issue over that of slavery in Buchanan's day; it ends with a direct call to action. (It also slips in an aside about HFCS as a public-health concern.)

It is also an effective and subtly structured multi-point-of-view novel, although it helps if the reader has first read The Incrementalists as a preparation. ( )
  jsburbidge | Mar 15, 2017 |
I loved the first book. Interesting characters, interesting world, interesting magic. But, this book, the sequel, is a very poor second to the first. First, it hits you over the head with a message. A very loud, big message that doesn't let go. Yes, Arizona's illegal immigration legislation is bad. But, there is no need to mention it every third paragraph. Also, the authors thing against high fructose corn syrup, while probably true, came out of left field, and generally didn't fit anywhere.

Which brings up the point - why tie this book into something in the real world, that is so obviously going to be dated in a few years? That means if the series continues, this volume won't be relevant. And second - I don't read novels like this to be told why Arizona's Bill SB 1070 is bad and should be opposed at every turn. Also, I suspect people who read this book share similar views as the authors, so its preaching to the choir.

Now a few things about the book - the writing is solid, but it is so haphazard - characters randomly show up a without much explanation, strangers join the group and are immediate friends, even spending the night. The plot was all over the place - not enough ground work was laid down for a reader to follow it. And of course, it was all tied up neatly at the end, except for Matsu - who really was the only interesting character in the book.

The world of the Incrementalists is really cool, but I don't think the groundwork was explained very well. It seemed as if the story made the Garden and what it can do change depending on what was needed in the plot. This is too bad - because its a really interesting concept - and I enjoyed it greatly in the first book.

The book felt it was written for a political reason, and the characters shoehorned into it, without a lot of thought as to why do it. The only thing that made this half reasonable to read is that Brust is an experienced author- and regardless of the book, managed to write in a way that made it half interesting.

I was so excited to see this book - but making it so specific a real world cause - it could easily have been written with similar themes, but a bit more vague on the context, and a bit more work on plot, it would really have been an excellent book. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Mar 12, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Brustprimary authorall editionscalculated
White, SkylerAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765382881, Hardcover)

"Secret societies, immortality, murder mysteries and Las Vegas all in one book? Shut up and take my money." ―John Scalzi on The Incrementalists

The Incrementalists are a secret society of two hundred people―an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, a little bit at a time.

Now Phil, the Incrementalist whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has been shot dead. They’ll bring him back―but first they need to know what happened. Their investigation will lead down unexpected paths in Arizona, and bring them up against corruption, racism, and brutality in high and low places alike.

But the key may lay in one of Phil’s previous lives, in “Bleeding Kansas” in the late 1850s―and the fate of the passionate abolitionist we remember as John Brown.

Steven Brust and Skyler White's The Skill of Our Hands is the thrilling and thought-provoking follow-up to their critically acclaimed The Incrementalists.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 15 Dec 2016 15:43:06 -0500)

The Incrementalists are a secret society of two hundred people - an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, a little bit at a time. Now Phil, the Incrementalist whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else's, has been shot dead. They'll bring him back--but first they need to know what happened. Their investigation will lead down unexpected paths in Arizona, and bring them up against corruption, racism, and brutality in high and low places alike. But the key may lay in one of Phil's previous lives, in "Bleeding Kansas" in the late 1850s - and the fate of the passionate abolitionist we remember as John Brown.… (more)

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