I didn’t think that was what particularly worked about AJ for me. For me AJ was strong when it was being realistic about empire and its abuses and complexities without being as cheap and obvious about it as most books featuring an “evil empire” (like, say The Traitor Baru Cormorant), and talking about the characters and their relationships and attitudes and so on. The whole actual plot-plot and especially the action was significantly less interesting than that.
Dogs of War is more than pulp, but it’s not like, hugely more than pulp. It is a very good book but then pulp can be, imho. It contains all the standard Adrian Tchaikovsky novel elements, though in this case they combine in a way that works better than some of the others:
- Animal-people of some variety. In this case terrifying semi-uplifted genetically cyborg animals (and stranger things).
- Brutal and highly effective emotional manipulation of the reader. He’s very good at making you feel something, even it’s not entirely earned and maybe feels a bit cheap afterwards.
- Load of really cheap/obvious stock characters with zero depth and which are sometimes actively unbelievable.
- POV characters tend to be better-written but still pretty shallow.
- Dark setting.
- Significant time-jumps to prevent him having to write a much longer book and so he can explore the consequences of stuff*
- Lots of dramatic/violent scenes/action.**
- Plot just unpredictable and daring enough that you do wonder what might happen, and sometimes things you thought/hoped couldn’t happen do.
- Solid enough sci-fi/functional enough magic systems that they don’t make you end up going “that’s not very plausible” or “jesus fucking wept that’s not how gravity works…”. Unlike some authors.
- Good friends, people coming through, people helping each other in the end. An clear, I would suggest, essential belief in the basic goodness of at least a large portion of humanity/animal-person-manity.
It’s a very set sort of set of approaches, but he has some really great SF ideas to go with them, and he’s certainly pretty reliable at creating books that work, and are engaging and exciting to read in the moment. Not a hundred percent reliable - some of his books have been a lot less engaging - for example Ironclads, which never really even gets that near its premise. And the Echoes of the Fall series about magical shapeshifters was basically pure pulp, albeit of an enjoyable “Oh my god did he just turn into a deinonychus and jump on someone?” kind of way (and oddly enough the characterisation was a bit better, too, perhaps because he didn’t have the same sci-fi tropes to fall back on).
Re: Jemisin, well, yes, she is clearly writing on a level above this, I’d also put her towards the literary end of SF with people like Gene Wolfe and Ada Palmer (people like Robin Hobb and GRRM would be between them and Tchaikovsky, perhaps closer to Tchaikovsky), and to get up that end you generally need to be very good at the ol’ writing clever words thing. I guess my issue with Ann Leckie is I feel like she has the skills and thinking to be up that end but AJ seemed to want to be more plot-y and action-y in the end. I haven’t actually read Okorafor, I keep meaning too, if she’s in the same general league as Jemisin, then I’ll definitely make her my next book.
With Tchaikovsky my fear is always that he’ll get too formulaic, and I’ll stop being able to enjoy his stuff, or he’ll move away from that, but his cardboard characters will make his stuff not work. He does seem to be moving away from the formula a bit with his newest books - Cage of Souls and Doors of Eden, so we’ll see how that goes I guess (I haven’t read either yet but inevitably I will - after Okorafor though now, thank you!).
* = This is a great trait btw, I wish more genre authors were willing to do a significant time-skip instead of making us sit through virtually everything that happens.
** = This is less awesome because sometimes it’s really effective and sometimes it isn’t and sometimes it even gets tedious and in the way of the story (as it does in Children of Time).
Exactly. Like in the second book there’s a robot-person, and she wants to tell me all about it’s power source and how it’s like, totally logical and justified that it doesn’t need to refuel or anything, and instead of just handwaving it as being powered by a handwavium core which will last ten thousand years or being powered by the food it eats (instead that becomes a whole weird subplot) in a highly efficient way or whatever, she gives an an elaborate description clearly based on a misunderstanding of how self-winding watches work, instead describing a first order perpetual motion machine in that it blatantly gets more energy out than is put in (because she literally and explicitly explains that it can power itself by walking around - arrrrrgh how is that not obvious to everyone as a perpetual motion machine? It’s capable of perpetual motion! That’s literally what you just said!).
All you had to say was “It has an infinite power source” or something. Nobody would have questioned it!