Details: This is a slightly odd small press limited edition with two novels and a short story bound together. lethargic_man started explaining how he came by it, and then we got distracted so I never quite found out the whole story. Anyway, it doesn't have a normal title page with the information I usually look for in commercially published books, and doesn't appear to have an ISBN. What I can find out is: it's (c) 1987, 1989, 1998 Daniel Keys Moran; it was published by Queen of Angels in the US, presumably in 1998 though that's not mentioned. (The website listed for them doesn't appear to have anything on it but a picture of the World Trade Center, which doesn't help me very much.) Anyway here are a random edition of Emerald Eyes and one of The Long Run on Allconsuming.
Verdict: Emerald Eyes and particularly The Long Run are at least partially successful, although not really my thing.
Reasons for reading it: lethargic_man raves about it a lot.
How it came into my hands: As is probably obvious from the above, lethargic_man lent it to me.
I usually structure my reviews by starting off by saying what I like about a book, and then going on to criticism; even with bad books the first usually outweighs the second, just because I find the basic fact of reading so enjoyable anyway. I'm finding that difficult to do with Emerald Eyes and The Long Run. Most of what I liked about these two books was fairly amorphous things like: they are exciting and readable and original, whereas there are quite a few minor but specific things that annoyed me about the pair.
I think in some ways these two books typify what mainstream readers expect to dislike about SF. There's a lot of action and a fair amount of information-heavy world-building background, but they are light on characterization or plausible human relationships. And a lot of the 'science' element is little more than 'wouldn't it be cool if we had technology that could do X?!' speculation. There's also far too much weaponry porn, which leaves me absolutely cold. To be fair, anything that bases a major plot arc on futuristic genetic manipulation has a good chance of annoying me (with the possible exception of Aldous Huxley).
I did like a lot of the computer / informatics / AI stuff, though. Unlike the biology, I don't know enough about this sort of thing to read very critically, but it felt both plausible and interesting. The portrayals of Trent's various hacking exercises come across as exciting, which means both that there's enough background for me to understand why what he's doing is difficult and cool, but that background is woven into the story and not didactic. The scene where Trent gets a fancy new 'inskin', merges with his Image and gains the ability to interact directly with the InfoNet is particularly powerful.
Reading the two books back to back like this almost certainly enhanced my enjoyment of them. This presentation went some way to soften my habitual annoyance at books that are too obviously part of long series, but actually I think I'd forgive these two even if I'd read them separately. Both have a sensible structure with endings that are actually endings, and tie up enough of the threads to be satisfying while still leaving some things open. And The Long Run contains enough reminders of back story that I think one could make sense of it without having read Emerald Eyes. Also, The Long Run is far and away the stronger book of the two. If I'd read Emerald Eyes in a separate edition, I don't think I'd have been inspired to go out and look for the sequel, but it is exciting and engaging enough that I wanted to read on when I had the continuation already there in my hands.
I think the main trouble with Emerald Eyes is that there are too many characters and almost none of them are quite solid enough for me to tell them all apart, let alone engage with them emotionally. Apart from that (which to me is a huge flaw, because I read for character before anything else), the story is exciting and it does a good job of building up the background (maybe a little heavy-handed at times, but I did get a feel for the setting and I always prefer too much incluing1 over too little). The revelation that Trent is not a telepath I found moving; the big flashy battle that forms the book's climax had much less emotional impact, mainly because I didn't care enough about all the people who get killed and also because I just don't get excited about big huge explosions and lots of blood and gore. And the epilogue which sets up the rest of the series fell just short of annoying me; it's a bit on the mystical side, but manages not to spoil the balance of the book.
The Long Run could still do with better characterization, but I could at least remember who was who, and did care about what happened to them. The eponymous chase sequence is very well executed, sustaining excitement for a large proportion of the book, and providing plenty of emotional variation for such a basically simple theme. I really liked the fact that Trent's arch-enemy, Vance, is neither stupid nor motivated by pure abstract evil, despite very much playing the rôle of super-Villain. The scene with Trent and Garon fighting on top of a half-built spacescraper is so visibly written with the screenplay in mind that it's almost ridiculous, but it's well enough done that it gets away with this.
What did annoy me was a strong sense of visible scaffolding, particularly in terms of Trent's character. He almost has a sign painted on his forehead saying 'look at me, I'm a Lovable Rogue!'. Character ambiguity isn't ambiguity if it's hard wired so that the narration is practically screaming 'Look! Trent is a thief and arrogant to boot! But you should like him anyway because he gives his profits to charity and is loyal to his friends and doesn't like unnecessary killing!' And the humourous scenes, particularly between Trent and duBois, felt really, really forced. Actually I almost found myself liking Carl Castanaveras better than Trent, because there was less of the 'isn't this character adorable?!' stuff.
The other thing, and it's minor, but it really, really niggled, was the way that we know exactly how attractive every single female character is (even the ones who are basically just scenery or walk-on parts). I normally have no problems identifying with a male viewpoint character, and I have no problems with the kind of set-up where the men are the protagonists and the women are just decoration or trophies. That kind of direct sexism isn't the problem with EE and tLR; indeed, the fact that the setting is a largely egalitarian society makes the attractiveness rating thing stick out even more.
The interludes with the storyteller-god I really didn't get; I assume they are setting stuff up for future episodes, but as these two novels stand they don't seem to contribute much to the story. I was also a little peeved that there is no mention at all of what happened to David Castanaveras, or of how Ralf the Wise and Powerful suddenly manages to turn up as an almost literal deus ex machina, though I suppose it's fair enough to leave some things open as teasers for the rest of the series.
1] papersky coined the term. It's one of those beautiful neologisms which couldn't mean anything but what it means.
Having said all that, Emerald Eyes is very easy to read despite its problems, and The Long Run is absolutely gripping, even if it's not the kind of book I particularly seek out normally.