The Praxis - Walter Jon Williams
A few years ago, I came across the fantastic and deservedly award-winning short story Daddy's World - unfortunately, I immediately forgot the author's name, resulting in many unwise purchases of books by people who might have written it (Gene Wolfe, Damon Knight...). Recently I actually bothered to look it up, and found it was the relatively unknown Walter Jon Williams. What else had he written? Well, the place to start would seem to be his apparently seminal Dread Empire's Fall trilogy, the first book of which is The Praxis.
My high expectations were slightly tempered by the cover, which (as you can see) is a very bog-standard pulp-SF one; however, it also had a nice recommendation from George RR Martin which gave me hope, and it's true that even great authors like Jack Vance were badly served by their cover artists and blurb writers (the blurb of this one handily gives away half the plot, thanks guys!). Alas, the first impression of "pulp SF" proved to be the correct one.
That's not to say that this is a bad book; as far as it went, it was quite enjoyable. However, the promises of grand space opera went largely unfulfilled, the plot for the most part was fairly pedestrian and I even found myself skipping paragraphs during the lengthy passages about spaceship manouvres (there are quite a few of these). The characters had interesting premises behind them - social-climbing but basically decent Martinez, and bright cadet Sula with her dark past - but I never really engaged with either of them, and the side-characters were even more sketchily portrayed.
Luckily, it's quite short, which makes it worthwhile as a light read, especially if space-battles are your thing; there's also quite a good sense of humour there behind the words. I'll probably even read more of the series, when I have a few quid to spare and nothing more compelling on the list, but it's certainly not a priority. One to pick up second-hand or from a library - or just read Daddy's World instead.