Thursday, April 10, 2008

"The Spacetime Pool" by Catherine Asaro

The March issue of Analog leads with a novella by Catherine Asaro. I had previously read her novel, The Quantum Rose, which is a book in the middle of her famous Skolian Empire series. I didn't much care for it: the mix of sf background with fantasy and romance plotting tropes just didn't work for me. I decided to give this novella a shot to see if a different piece would give me a different perspective on this author. Nope, not this time.

Our heroine is Janelle, a recently minted Ph.D. in Math from MIT. She is out hiking when she is suddenly kidnapped, dragged across dimensions, and then attacked by savages. The kidnapper tries to explain why he did it - his father had seen a prophecy many years ago that involved her. He is one of twin brothers, and he's the good one. The bad one is the elder, currently ruling in oppressive and warlike ways. The prophecy said that whoever married her would rule, and whoever killed her would die. So he was able to get to her first, and would she like to get married now?

After some absolutely token protests, she decides that she's really into the hunky good prince, and yes, she would like to marry him now. That's where it all started to break down for me. It's one thing to accept the practicalities of the situation, but she's really into him from the first horse ride. After all, he's studly. And seems nice. Why not dive in after only a day's acquaintance with a guy who's torn you away from everything you knew for his own gain?

After this other adventures ensue. The wedding does not go smoothly, and she finds herself in a trap which only her detailed knowledge of mathematics can help her solve. Talk about contrived. The dialog goes:

"Very well." His laugh grated. "The combination that releases the chain is the same number of terminal zeros in 4089 factorial."

What the blazes? She understood what he meant, but it astounded her that he offered such a game of number theory. It wasn't something most people knew even in her own universe.

"You do know what a factorial is?" he said.

"No," she lied.

"Pity. Not that it would help you. You could never multiply all those numbers together."

Yep. Contrived.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, and seems very much like the opening third of a novel. It's perfectly well written: well-paced, good action, empathetic characters, nice prose, good descriptions. Again, it's the instantly-fall-in-love-with-the-hunky-barbarian romance trope that just turns me off. I understand why so many people enjoy her stories, but she's just not the author for me.

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