When I read the blurb on this book, I got excited. Like all my friends know I love Glen Cook; man does not do much wrong in my opinion. Some even call me a Glen Cook groupie. I wouldn’t take it that far, but I enjoy his novels. Can’t lie about it. So as I visualized Glen Cook writing a space opera with ancient, sentient warships, fanatical crews of deathless soldiers, a vast interstellar empire with conspiracies galore, and a universe spanning Web for travel, I almost started having shakes like a drug addict about to take a hit of his favorite, mood-enhancing, pharmaceutical product. Could not wait to start the book. But . . .
Well, you knew there was going to be a “but” didn’t you?
The Dragon Never Sleeps has great ideas. Those bad-to-the-bone warships are here, and they are called Guardships. They have been operating for millenniums until the point they are sentient beings who actually learn from their experiences. Cook garrisons these ships with human beings, who never die but are kept in status until needed, and if they do perish, their dna and memories are stored in the ship’s database to allow them to be regrown. There is even an impregnable starbase, where every ships’ information including crew dna/memories are always kept so as to allow the whole ship to be rebuilt and its crew regrown. All this makes it seem to the universe – and the reader – that the Guardships and their crews are immortal, invulnerable, and as close to god-like as any thing humans could engineer.
Now these ships eternal mission is to guard Canon space and respond to any threat to the empire with deadly force. (Envision a nuke being used to exterminate an ant hill.) To make their task easier, the ships ancient builders constructed them to travel via the universe spanning Web: an artificial stream between the worlds, left over from some long dead races space engineering. So obviously, if you upset the Guardships, they will be orbiting your world with overwhelming force before you can do squat to stop them. And even if you destroy a ship or two, it is not going to help you because they just rebuild and regrow themselves. Take that rebel scum!
With all that in mind, I guess it goes without saying that some Canon citizens might want to get rid of their “protectors.” But it is going to be hard to do that when dealing with immortal ships with god-like power. Hell, the ships are so good it’s hard for Glen Cook to come up with a coherent story that actually makes it feasible that someone could defeat them. (The old Superman is Superman so who can beat him problem from back in the day.) And I guess that was what was wrong with “The Dragon Never Sleeps” to me: no suspense.
I have to give Glen Cook credit here; he tries everything he can to make this story interesting. You want characters; we got characters by the dozens. Hell, we have clones of characters who then go clone themselves until who the hell knows – or cares – which one is the original character anymore. You want plot lines; we got so many we lost count. Let us review just a few.
In one plot line, we get conspiring Commercial Houses trying to rid themselves of their meddling “protectors,” and when one head of a house fails in his plot and dies, we just replace him and rinse and repeat the plot. (And to complicate things, the guy’s clone is still around causing trouble and confusing things.) In another, we get ancient, genetically modified aliens striving to avenge an ancient defeat – or are they? Another plot has us examining the moral ambiguity as to whether it is right for a fleet of human Guardships to be the “overlords” of an interstellar empire which has morphed into a predominantly alien one. The next has Guardships losing their “minds” – for a lack of another expression – and exhibiting strange behavior. One has the immortal crew of the Guardships questioning why they even continue to exist when all they knew is gone. There is even a galaxy spanning war as disgruntled Canon inhabitants call in the aid of barbaric “Outsiders” from beyond the empire to smash the status quo. And that is just the plots I’m taking time to list. There are more; few of which ever really impact the other, or if they do it was too tenuous for me to care about.
As I said earlier, I love Glen Cook, but this book just did not work. The Guardships – though a very cool idea – were too powerful, which meant I never doubted their eventual success. Though I liked a few of the characters, there were too many. The plots too many and not interconnected enough for my tastes. Another reviewer wrote it perhaps better than me, “. . . this book should have been at least two or three books. . . the action was sometimes too fast and furious and sometimes much slower. If the book(s) had been longer, many of the passages that were rushed over in the first half would have been made much clearer.” Kathryn Daugherty w/o permission but with acknowledgment.
I guess that sums it up. Don’t call me a Cook groupie again. You know who you are. 🙂