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Primary inversion by Catherine Asaro
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7061813,397 (3.53)55
Title:Primary inversion
Authors:Catherine Asaro
Info:New York : TOR, 1995.
Collections:Your library, 75 Books in 2012
Tags:skolian, sf, sf space opera

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Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro (1995)

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I don't like too much romance in my SciFi. ( )
  Jarandel | Jun 2, 2014 |
At the beginning of the year I decided to actively seek out and read SF&F written by women or with women occupying the titular roles. As you may imagine, when I first learned about Catherine Asaro , a female author who writes hard SF while reading the Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, I was excited and impressed and went in immediate search of books written by her. Aside from being an author and dancer, Asaro has degrees in chemistry and physics from Harvard. I felt immediately assured that her books would give me that blend of believable SF and intriguing narrative I love. However, not until I started to read Primary Inversion did I realize that she can also be billed as a romance author.
This is where things sort of went bad for me.
I’m not sure if this is the point at which I am supposed to hand over my honorary girl’s club membership card, but I have a difficult time with strong elements of romance in my books. This is a personal preference. More accurately, I can tolerate romance if it is tasteful, subtle, and does not make up the bulk of the story. Not quite so with PI, but this is not my only issue with this book.
It’s not that I hate romance… it’s just that I do. Ha. Specifically, I don’t appreciate the over sentimentalized, sappy, UNREALISTIC, heart-rung quality romance novels frequently present us with. Even more specifically, I prefer stories wherein the romance is a happenstance occurrence and not the crux of the tale.
Primary Inversion (PI) is the first novel in the Saga of the Skolian Empire series. PI is a hard SF, space opera, political intrigue and, yes, romance novel. As I typically do with my reviews, I will try to discuss the merits of the book as I see and understand them without spoiling it for those who eventually chose to go on and read it.
PI is written in first person POV in the voice of the main character, Sauscony Valdoria (Soz). Soz is an intelligent, powerful super soldier-type who leads her own fighter squadron. She is attractive and at forty-eight years old looks about half that. Part of her super soldier prowess is due to her many cybernetic implants, but also in part to her genetic make-up. She is Rhon (I still honestly don’t get it) and this makes her, in addition to everything else, a powerful empath. She is funny and spunky, bright and quick witted. Soz is also the sister of Kurj, Imperator of the Skolian Imperialate, and she is next in line to take his place. What this means is that she is old money wealthy and practically royalty.
Her biggest internal conflict is a ten year old psychological wound she carries after having been once kidnapped and raped by an Aristo, a race that derives pleasure from the pain of empaths.
At first I thought it was the first person POV that I didn’t like, but then I realized that in this case, first person wasn’t the issue so much as the character of Soz herself. She is quite the Mary Sue:
• Very Beautiful
• Strangely colored hair
• All men want her
• Even men who don’t like her want her
• An especially skilled pilot/leader/soldier
• Heiress apparent to the Skolian Imperialate
• Practically royalty
• Wealthy
• Tragic past (rape) she is still traumatized by making her vulnerable at just the right situations
• Highly potent empath (Empathy is her supernatural power further strengthen by cybernetic implants? Although there are others with this power, hers is particularly strong and well-honed.)
• Pretentious name - Sauscony Valdoria? Really?
• Incorruptible
• Nearly fifty but looks twenty-something
• Recognized her true love via ecstasy inducing mind meld

During the course of this book, which spans over a few months, Soz enters into three relationships. The first and most appropriate is with a man who eventually becomes a paraplegic. He breaks up with her so as not to destroy her life and prospects. Of course she was prepared to forego her comfort and her position for him, but... Her second relationship is with a twenty something year old who seems terribly naïve. Their relationship was hardly explored outside of their cuddling and romps. He was her golden haired boytoy. The last relationship was with a twenty year old named Jaibriol Qox, who she met in the beginning of the book. JQ wasn’t just naïve but he was wholly inexperienced and also, being Rhon, had this immediate mental connection with her that meant that they were soul mates. The problem with this was that JQ is the heir apparent of the opposing side a galactic war.
Yes, what we have here is a Romeo and Juliet-ish tale.
I don’t like Romeo and Juliet.
I don’t like my characters perfect and awesome and unflawed.
I don’t like spending an entire book stuck in the head of a character whose stuck on themselves. She spends a lot of time stuck in Woe-is-me-land and I can’t stand that place. Not only that, rape or not, I have a difficult time feeling as sorry for her as she does for herself. As a matter of fact, there was a scene in which, while drunk, she “mistakenly” held a loaded weapon to her head. I kinda wished she would have pulled the trigger. Oh, the misery.
I’d also like to note here that JQ is the much younger male mirror image of Soz. In other words, Gary Stu. See all those Mary Sue traits listed above? Yep. That’s him with the odd adjustment here and there.
So, you’re likely wondering why I finished this book. Well, in Asaro’s defense, and mine, PI presents so many interesting and fresh concepts and ideas that I can’t declare it a complete loss. The problem is that the ideas that I personally found interesting, were either not well developed of weighted in simple yet excessive narrative.
Again, first person brought me too close to this character who I did not care for. I believe that had this been written in third person, despite my dislike for Soz, I could have stomached her.
As far as the SF elements go, there are a ton of detailed technical descriptions that instead of adding to the overall depth of the story actually slowed the pacing. I skipped huge chunks to get back into the fray because at some point I’d just glaze over. Part of the issue, I believe, is the fact that PI has too many things going on. You know, less is more, and all that jazz. We have empathic beings, racial issues (although everyone in this book seemed human and white… don’t even get me started on that), cultural issues, strong military elements, space travel, political intrigue, cybernetic implantation, AI…
About halfway in, I started thinking about McMasters-Bujold with her subtle use of technical verbiage and easy believable romantic elements. I missed that while reading PI. I know it isn’t entirely fair to compare the two authors, but the similarities and the differences are striking, I think, and Asaro could learn something from McMasters-Bujold about subtlety and believable relationship progression.
For me, the crux of the issue is that this story with all of its political intrigue and SF elements, which I’d normally enjoy, appears to have been woven to support these unlikely romances as opposed to the romances occurring as the natural result of what happens when two attractive unattached and compatible people are thrown together. Deus Ex Machina is shamelessly and ruthlessly employed here and in the course of one tale is so over used as to become absolutely unacceptable.
The unfortunate past rape of Soz is a looming element in this tale, as it colors Soz’s future experiences. I know that rape happens in real life, that it can alter how a woman sees herself, how she feels about the world around her and that it colors future relationships. Rape is tragic and horrific and unacceptable no matter what. That said, I don’t object to the inclusion of such a tragic element in a story if employed with the sensitivity it deserves. However, in this case I do resent its use as it feels like a pillar upon which to prop the protagonist whose character is annoying, weakly constructed, and paper thin.

( )
1 vote khaalidah | Mar 14, 2014 |
I liked this a little more than 3 stars and a little less than 4. I found it to be an oddly riveting blend of fascinating speculative science and melodramatic romance. Sort of astrophysics meets bodice ripper. I want to read more of them, so I guess that says something. ( )
  Kali.Lightfoot | Jan 10, 2014 |
  romsfuulynn | Apr 28, 2013 |
Sauscony "Soz" Valdoria possesses a special power that grants her superior abilities as a combat pilot. Her enemies feed upon that power, and should they ever get their hands on her they will torture her because that enhances their enjoyment while they mentally and physically rape her. Soz discovers that the only suitable genetic mate for her is one of these enemies. Add in the complicating factor that she and her potential mate are both highly placed political figures in bitterly opposed nations. Throw in some fairly imaginative, but well-supported science speculation about faster than light travel and artificial intelligence and you end up with Catherine Asaro's Primary Inversion.

Primary Inversion was the first novel written by Catherine Asaro for her Skolian Empire series, which now spans thirteen novels. Sauscony Valdoria, is a Jagernaut, which means that she is also a telepath, as only telepaths have the mental abilities necessary to mentally meld with their squad mates and act as one during the chaotic and stuttering form of space combat imagined by Asaro. Among the Jagernauts she is a "Primary", essentially the equivalent of an admiral, but even more, she is an Imperial Princess, potentially in line to succeed to the throne of the Skolian Empire. She was also abducted and used as a "provider" by an Aristo some years prior to the events of the book while she was conducting a covert operation.

Which leads us to the Aristos, who are the implacable enemies of the Skolian Empire. Asaro lays out the components of telepathy in her fictional reality, with some humans possessing the ability to send out an empathic or telepathic signal, and others possessing the ability to receive such signals, and some few who are true telepaths - able to send and receive thoughts. Soz and her fellow Jagernauts, as well as a small number of others in the Skolian Empire fit this final category. But the ruling elite of the 'Traders" (or more fomally, the Eubian Concord), who are dubbed "Aristos" can only receive, and only are able to empathically perceive thoughts such as fear or pain which gives them pleasure. The Aristos covet empaths and telepaths as "providers", seeking to enslave, rape, and torture them to fill the need they have to experience the pain of others through their ability to receive emotions empathically. Aristos also have a stranglehold on political power in Eubian Concord, as all other inhabitants are regarded as slaves who exist to serve the whims of their masters.

Given this background, one would be unsurprised at Soz's bafflement when, while on leave on the neutral planet Delos, an Aristo approaches her and behaves civilly, and is even clumsily friendly. Circumstances lead Soz to conduct an impromptu raid on the mysterious Aristo's rented residence, where she learns an array of explosive secrets: the Highton is named Jabriol, is a critically important Eubian political figure, and also turns out, for plot specific reasons to quite possibly be the only man who Soz could have a satisfying personal relationship with, a fact obviously complicated by their respective political allegiances, but also by the fact that Soz had established a personal relationship with a member of her squad. But during her raid she also learns potentially explosive information about the Eubian plans for the inhabitants of the rebellious planet Tams. One interesting element of the story is that although the reader, seeing the world through Soz's eyes, is likely to consider her cause righteous and the Eubians to be truly evil, Jabriol is not so easily convinced, making a patriotic case for his nation.

After a brief detour through the Delosian legal system following her breaking and entering spree, during which she happens upon a mostly closeted telepath (an interesting wrinkle in Asaro's fictional future is that the neutral Allied worlds don't acknowledge the existence of telepathy), Soz sets about acting on the military intelligence she gleaned as a result of her late night foray. And this leads Asaro to throw in some more exposition, explaining how the much smaller Skolian Empire is able to resist Eubian might - through the reliance upon the psiberweb to allow for swifter than light communication. But this also reveals the Skolian weakness: the psiberweb is powered by the mental abilities of the Rhon, powerful telepaths all of the heretofore known examples of which are members of Soz' own immediate family, and who are nigh irreplaceable. In effect, the psiberweb is powered by the overpowering telepathic capabilities of a single family of telepaths, who consequently wield almost unassailable political power within the Skolian Empire, but whose powers also make them the most coveted prizes of the Eubian Aristos. The very power that makes the Rhon capable of providing the Skolian Empire with the means to resist the Eubian threat is what makes them such a tempting target for Eubian aggression. Because the Eubian's consign their telepaths to the lowest rung of society to serve as sex slaves for their elites, they have no hope of establishing a similar communications web of their own.

Nor can the Eubians create soldiers like the Jagernauts capable of communicating during the heat of space combat, as Asaro explains the mechanics of space travel in her imagined future by invoking imaginary numbers, and interesting mathematical concept that is given a central place in how the Skolians and Eubians manage to exceed the universal speed limit of the speed of light using a process called "inversion". But traveling faster than light comes with drawbacks, and these drawbacks can only be overcome by psions working together. But even the psiber edge enjoyed by the Skolians is not always enough, which is amply illustrated when Soz leads her squad into a desperate battle with Trader forces in the space over the planet Tams with millions of lives at stake. A battle that also results in some fairly devastating personal consequences for Soz.

Which leads to the second portion of the book in which Soz is sent to recuperate from her ordeal by teaching at the military academy on the planet Forshires. And this "down time" allows Asaro to explore the psychological consequences of the enormous amounts of stress she has piled upon her heroine. As one might guess, as a former provider and an empath who has been required by circumstances to kill and who has seen her own squad mates maimed and killed, Soz is a mess. It is in this section where Asaro seriously focuses on what her books are known for - melding strong science fiction with romance, as Soz takes halting steps towards establishing a relationship with a lover to replace the relationship smashed by the events of the first section of the book. It is also in this section that we meet the various members of Soz's family, including her imposing brother Kurj, the Imperator of Skolia. And it is in this portion of the book that Asaro reveals that she isn't going to let her heroes off the hook - an inhabitant of Forshires that Soz comes across suggests that the Skolian Empire may not be as altogether benevolent as Soz believes, and makes a strong argument for that position. And Kurj's actions with respect to a pretty young hospital worker seem to show a disturbing parallel to the behavior of Aristos. Granted, he isn't going to torture her, but he doesn't seem to care that her desires might or might not coincide with his own, nor does he care about the consequences his actions have upon her. The point is made fairly subtly, but it seems that Kurj may not be all that different from those he despises. And that the Skolian Empire may not be all that much better of an option than the Eubian Concord.

All of this builds to a head in the third section of the book as political obligations and personal desires collide - and Soz is forced to choose between her patriotism and ambition and what may be her lone chance at finding a compatible life partner. In effect, Soz must choose between her country and her lover, and whichever choice she makes will have potentially explosive consequences. Once again, Asaro doesn't let her heroine off the hook with an easy choice, or an easy path to the choice she makes. But the choice she makes, though difficult to make, seems natural when made. And then Asaro turns the story from an exploration of Soz's emotions and ramps up the intrigue and action to a high pitch as Soz tries to make her choice reality. In the end, she gets help from an almost entirely unexpected source (actually two fairly unexpected sources), and ends up with an ending that, while not exactly perfect, is at least good enough for Soz to live with.

In the end, Primary Inversion turns out to mean something different than one would have thought at the outset of the novel, being more of a descriptive play on words than a description of a fictional faster-than-light technology. This was Catherine Asaro's first published novel, and it is clear that she hit the ground running. Asaro created two interesting opposed camps, and despite the temptation to make the good guys all good, she didn't shy away from the implications of having an elite few possess such unique powers that they also control the levers of politics, and how this would be resented (unlike, for example, the Lensman universe, where most people seem happy to have a super powered elite run the show). Although it seems a bit mystifying why the Traders would exalt what seems to be a genetic defect as a symbol of their rule, it does make the source of the conflict clear, and gives what could have been a bland set of wooden villains a clear motivation for their perifdy. With a strong character driven story, a little bit of romance and intrigue all backed by well thought-out science fiction elements placed in an interesting setting, Asaro's story delivers an enjoyable read. As a bonus, the novel has enough loose ends and interesting wrinkles to provide fodder for a number of interesting stories to follow.

This review has been posted to my blog Dreaming About Other Worlds. ( )
2 vote StormRaven | Jun 27, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812550234, Mass Market Paperback)

The Skolian Empire rules a third of the civilized galaxy through its mastery of faster-than-light communication. But war with the rival empire of the Traders seems imminent, a war that can only lead to slavery for the Skolians or the destruction of both sides. Destructive skirmishes have already occurred. A desperate attempt must be made to avert total disaster.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:50 -0400)

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A romance between heirs to warring empires. She is Soz, a psi-powered fighter pilot of the Skolian Empire, he is Jaibriol of the evil Trader Empire. But he is different from his compatriots and they fall in love. The background is a war fought using the faster-than-light inversion drive. The Skolian Empire rules a third of the civilized galaxy through its mastery of faster-than-light communication. But war with the rival empire of the Traders seems imminent, a war that can only lead to slavery for the Skolians or the destruction of both sides. Destructive skirmishes have already occurred. A desperate attempt must be made to avert total disaster.… (more)

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