Monday, April 13, 2009


by Karin Lowachee

The first book in this sort-of-series is Warchild, which I wrote about here. It's not exactly a series, because the stories aren't sequential; instead they're the same basic story told from the points of view of three different characters (another echo of Orson Scott Card's "Enderverse"). I don't know why I didn't just check the publication dates, but I somehow managed to read them out of order. It didn't really matter for these two, but reading either of these before Warchild would have ruined that book's ending, so I'm glad I at least got that part right.

These books are definitely of the military sci-fi subgenre, but there's also the heavy focus on character and emotion typical of the soft/social sci-fi subgenre. Each of the main characters experiences physical and psychological trauma, and ultimately finds the inner strength to endure, first, and then to free themselves from their pasts. The way the protagonists evolve sort of reminded me of some of Octavia Butler's heroines, too.

All three characters are young men, ranging in age from 14 to 20 during the main action of the books, with some flashbacks or introductory parts about their earlier childhoods. (At my library, they're classified as young adult books, but I've seen them catalogued as regular SF on other libraries' websites.) Partly as a function of their ages, and also because of a major plot element — war, piracy, kidnapping, forced prostitution — sexual themes arise. It's mostly innuendo of the gay-vague and gay-chicken* variety; only Cagebird has actual gay characters and actual sex happening, which is slightly more explicit than a romance novel but far from the language of erotica.

*Not to be confused with the older gay slang "chicken," referring to a very young gay boy/man usually in the context of a relationship with an older gay man, "gay chicken" is when (supposedly) straight guys say and/or do "gay" things to each other, turning up the intensity and pushing boundaries until one of them "chickens" out. It's related to frat-boy/athlete/military sexual bravado and gay-baiting, and it depends on the paradox that the more secure you are in your masculinity, the farther you can push the gay boundary. In these books, there's also an implied feeling that there's much less social stigma attached to being gay and that gender and sexuality categories are... not exactly fluid, but maybe more mix-and-match.

Final analysis: the action and intrigue of Ender's Game or a Heinliein book, with the added attraction of teen angst and sexiness. I loved this series, and I'd recommend it to teens and adults alike. I'm very sad that my library no longer has Warchild and is down to one copy each of Burndive and Cagebird. I'm even considering putting them in my Top 10.

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