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Review: Fool's War by Sarah Zettel

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fool's WarFool's War by Sarah Zettel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really loved this book. I found it because the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club read When Gravity Fails and one of the discussions that came from it was a search for other science fiction books featurning Muslim and Arab characters. I really enjoy books with international or intercultural storylines and the descriptions of this one really caught my attention. A female Muslim captain certainly seemed like a different perspective that would be pretty fascinating if done well, it sure isn't something you see a lot of in fiction or non-fiction! And done well it was, I was really pleased with almost every aspect of this book.

The cultural aspects were quite interesting. Katmer Al Shei, the chief engineer and part owner of the Pasadena, basically the captain, is a very devout Muslim. She and her cousin, Resit, the ship's lawyer, wear kijabs (what we call hijabs, the head coverings many observant Muslim women wear), although Al Shai covers her mouth and Resit does not because she says that no one would trust a lawyer who doesn't show her face. The women are both very observant, attending prayers several times each day and following as many rules of their faith as possible while traveling in space. In addition, it was interesting to see the author's vision of how Muslims might be perceived in the future. In this version of the future there was a castastrophic event called the Slow Burn 300 years ago that the Muslims were blamed for. They scattered across the setteled space, along with other cultural and religious groups, but there is still a lot of negative feeling toward them. It's pretting upsetting that a book written in 1997 was already so prescient about so many people's inability to forgive and forget. But I have to say that it felt realistic, it wasn't written in dramatic way, or like it was trying to illustrate a lesson in any way other than in a way that good literature does. It just felt like a natureal part of the landscape as it was presented, a piece of the bigger puzzle.

Other than the Muslim religion, there wasn't a lot of other traditional Earth culture presented, but there were several other interesting cultures that were central to the story. The most interesting was the Fools. This was such a neat idea right from the start. People who are traveling around in tiny ships for months to years at a time are under a tremendous amount of stress, so they need pressure valves, entertainers, confidants, clowns - Fools. And of course these Fools have to be untouchable or the people who do will get blackballed, how else can the Fools have the freedom to do their jobs properly?

Other than the Fools there was also the Freers, people who think that true freedom can only come from humans living in space and building environments to suit their growing needs. If they had it there way human would never touch another planet again. They also think that AIs are born when they capture the souls of dying humans and do everything they can to fostor that happening, even though to this point no one has ever figured out what has caused an AI to become independent.

I found this book to be completely engaging from beginning to end. By the middle it got really tense and exciting, with a big twist that really surprised me and changed things around completely. But what made it work most of all was the characters. I can see why some of the reviews I saw compared it to Star Trek, both because of the multicultural cast and the well-rounded story, but it also has quite a bit of Firefly as well. These guys are more on the up-and-up (although Al Shei's partner certainy isn't!) but they're independent operators trying to make it in a system that isn't always so friendly.

All right, I can't say too much more without giving anything away. Read it, it's just a great novel all around, smart and entertaining.

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