The Quantum Rose: A Nebula? Really?

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro science fiction book reviewsThe Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro

I have really really tried to give Catherine Asaro’s SKOLIAN EMPIRE series a fair chance. As I keep saying in my reviews, this should have been just my thing — space opera written by a female physicist. I should be loving this! Instead, to get straight to the point, so far these books have been mostly insipid insta-love romances with some quantum theory thrown in. As a woman who enjoys hard science fiction, and especially quantum theory, I was disappointed to find that these books do not appeal to me. It’s hard to imagine that they appeal much to romance readers, either, because the romances are so dull. A couple of the books (those featuring Kelric) might better be labeled erotica rather than romance.

The Quantum Rose is the sixth SKOLIAN EMPIRE book (going in publication order), but it can definitely stand alone. This one takes place on a backwater planet where civilization is declining. Technology has been lost, infant mortality rates are high, and humanity is dying off. One of the provinces of this planet is ruled (if you can call it that) by Kamoj Quanta Argali, a gorgeous buxom young woman who is about to marry the tall, gorgeous and beautifully built Jax Ironbridge, the domineering sadistic ruler of a neighboring province. But then Havyrl Lionstar, one of the exiled Ruby Dynasty’s gorgeous princes shows up — a dark brooding man who wears a mask and drinks a lot — and instantly falls in love with Kamoj when he sees her from afar, bathing in the river. Without even meeting her, he proposes marriage.

Thus begins a love triangle that involves kidnappings, rapes, duels, and way too many instances of Kamoj cradling one of these gorgeous men’s heads on her lap as she massages his temples. (Yes, I am aware that I have used the word “gorgeous” too many times in this review. I’m trying to make a point.) Kamoj is passive and mostly gets pulled back and forth between Ironbridge and Lionstar. Her passivity comes from the genetic engineering that bred the people of her planet (another common device in this series). She’s been bred to be subservient to any man who claims her as his own. This makes her a dull heroine who seems to be at the mercy of the plot rather than the other way around. (Plus, I just hate those kinds of characters anyway.) (And, as a governor of a province, she’s afraid of thunder?? Gimme a break.)

This part of the story, which Asaro says is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” deals with the tragedies of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol addiction and sexual abuse, though not in any way that’s new or interesting. Because characters give the usual sort of transparent rhetoric (“I can stop anytime I want” and “I didn’t want to hurt you, but it’s your fault because you made me mad”) these situations felt like they were dealt with in a shallow stereotypical way and didn’t manage to provoke my sympathies at all.

About three-fourths of the way through, the story changes into a revolutionary tale as people work together to try to evict an occupying force from a planet. I was slightly interested in this aspect of the story because it relates to the larger political plot involving the Ruby Dynasty, the Traders, and the Allied colonies of Earth. However, this plotline was resolved too quickly and easily with a rushed and unbelievable ending.

I listened to the audio version of The Quantum Rose which is 13.5 hours long and narrated by Anna Fields. Once again, she uses an unappealing voice for the Ruby Dynasty prince, making him sound like a malfunctioning robot. It’s hard to think of him as sexy with that voice, though even if I had read this in print, I don’t think I would have liked him much better because he’s so shallowly portrayed. My audio version, which I downloaded from Audible, seems to be missing the Author’s Note which is in the print version. Apparently it explains how The Quantum Rose is an allegory for scattering theory. With the character names, chapter titles, and all the talk of resonance, I picked up on this while reading the text, but I’m sure I don’t know enough about scattering theory to detect all of the symbolism.

Perhaps the quantum theory allegory is the reason The Quantum Rose won the Nebula Award for best Science Fiction Novel in 2001 despite being up against some much better books, including George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. I suppose the premise is clever, but that doesn’t mean it makes a great story.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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14 comments

  1. I’m sorry to keep laughing at your pain, but my goodness, I don’t think I would have ever stuck with a series that long while disliking the books (I only did that once with Terry Goodkind–never again!). Are you going to try to finish the series? Good luck!

    • Laugh at me all you want, David. I deserve it. If I wasn’t writing for this review site, I’d have given up already, but we are trying to get everything reviewed. So, part of me really wants to quit, but the other part of me (the part that manages this site) wants these books reviewed. But then I think “am I the right person to be reviewing these if I don’t like ANY of them?” How useful are my future reviews going to be to fans?
      I don’t know…. what do you think?

      • You’re trying to get everything reviewed? Now that’s a Herculean task. :)

        I’m not sure about the overall usefulness of the reviews. I think that the first few were definitely useful to me–I had a copy of Primary Inversion, but your response to it and the others made it clear that it’s not the book for me.

        I admit that on sites like Goodreads and Amazon I prefer to look at the 2-3 star reviews of books/series to see their particular criticism (as opposed to the 1-star (this sucks!) or the 5-/4-stars (this is the best!). I’ve still picked up books, if I felt that specific critique was something that wouldn’t bother me, though.

        • I agree that 2-3 star reviews are particularly helpful for deciding what to read. I like reading them, too.

          Because the SKOLIAN EMPIRE books can be read in any order, I kind of want to review the rest of them because readers may actually come here looking for reviews of those books.

          But for a series you have to read in order, it seems like it’s ok to stop reviewing it once it’s established that you’re not a fan. That’s why I stopped reading Jennifer Estep’s ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN series, for example. Anybody who’s thinking about picking up book 13 must be a fan, so they probably don’t care what I have to say after I’ve given 10 of the previous books a 2-star rating. Obviously we have different tastes and my review will not be helpful for them. It’s only helpful for those who are considering beginning the series.

          I think….

          • I do think it’s helpful to know if a series goes downhill or has an unsatisfactory ending.

  2. April /

    I think that if you’ve reviewed the first in a series, that is all that is really necessary unless one of the later books is something exemplary that you want readers to know about or so bad that readers should skip them.

    • That’s interesting, April. Is it because all I need to do is convince you to either read or not read the first book and then YOU decide whether to read the subsequent books from there? Do you not want to know if the rest of the series holds up before starting it?

  3. “Jax Ironbridge.” Wow.

    Kat, for the sake of your sanity, enough is enough! Surely there are books you’d enjoy reading on your TBR list!

  4. “… falls in love with her when he sees her bathing in a river.” Oh, Pul-EESE!

    And having a provincial governor who is subservient to any man who claims her is bad security, period.

    I’ll pass.

  5. April /

    I rarely consider a series as individual books so I just need to know if it is something I might enjoy and the rest I’ll decide on after reading the first.

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