A Slight Detour by Christopher Stasheff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
While I enjoyed A Slight Detour as much as the previous two volumes, it suffers much more extensively from the problem of repetition. Part of this is natural - as a series progresses, if the characters and their circumstances don't change significantly, the same elements will appear - but the rest comes from an amplification of Stasheff's tendency as a writer and a certain stagnation in the concept.
Our brave band of intrepid actors finds themselves - again - on a planet that poses unexpected difficulties to their performance and - again - must discard the material they rehearsed in the first two volumes to come up with something completely new. I confess myself disappointed, because I'd love to see what a performance of Vagrants From Vega would be like. Maybe this would have happened in book four?
This time, the planet is Citadel, a Puritan world, which poses a tense situation for our new arrivals ... and a number of social barriers which our crew of actors finds literally intolerable. There is a lot of entertainment in seeing these played out, though I found the friendships-from-fighting a bit puzzling.
One of the best aspects of this book is the introduction of a new character, Prudence - a native of the planet who turns out to be all kinds of trouble (just barely) hidden behind a sedate shell. She's a lot of fun, and she injects a new element into the character interactions.
Previous reviews of this series have covered Stasheff's tendency to have his characters get up on soapboxes, and with Citadel, it feels particularly uneven. There's no real attempt to present a balanced point of view, so the whole planet feels like a strawman, which is something of a shame.
The main repetition I noticed here, though, was actual repeated text. Trying not to spoil, but the characters are forced to write a script on the fly. Barry (the troupe's leader) praises this script and its clever writing, which already sets up a problem for the reader: the actual text is never going to match what the imagination conjures. And it doesn't, but it's a good speech ... except for the fact it shows up in its entirety twice, once while being rehearsed, and once in performance, with some necessary reiteration of the acting, as well. I can see the logic in showing the speech before its presentation so the reader can follow (and to some degree, anticipate) the beats in the audience's reaction, but it does make the reading a bit tedious.
There is also some repetition in the manner of the ending of the book, though at least that takes on a twist that promises interesting complications in the sequels ... which tragically, were never written.
I still have a soft spot in my heart for these books, but alas, they go no further and this one treads little new ground.
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