Rating: "A-/B+" -- a fine and twisty feminista space-opera.
This one sat on my 'to-read' shelf for a long time, after I bounced off her first, Reclamation, which has an excruciatingly slow start. Fool's War was a New York Times Notable Book of 1997 (and Reclamation won a Locus Award for Best First Novel...).
The setup is uncomfortably topical -- the story-now is 500 years after violent religious wars, started by Islamic extremists, almost wrecked Earth. The subsequent diaspora to the colony worlds simply spread out the same old hatreds. Now the ugly chickens are flapping home to roost....
I can't say very much about Fool's War's plot without spoiling things for you, but Zettel spins an impressively twisty tale. She constantly plays with the reader's expectations, and she (mostly) plays fair -- though her storytelling craft still has some rough spots in this sophomore effort. A cover blurb compares her to Heinlein and Asimov, but there's more than a touch of Van Vogt's signature rapidfire scene-changes here.
Fool's War is somethng of a grrrl powr-fantasy -- and I do like a well-done power-fantasy, especially one with a light touch. Here's Pilot Yerusha, in a moment of reflection within the storm of denouement: "I'm saving the human race so I can go on a date..." If you like to see femmes kicking butt that needs kicking, you'll like Fool's War.
Zettel's authorial hand does get a bit heavy with her villains, and in pointing characters where they need to go for the next plot-twist. But overall it's good, clean fun, and I'll have to do some Zettel catchup reading soon.
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© Peter D Tillman 19 January 2002