I had an odd week this week: lots of work but large chunks of down time while things like the drillers breaking their mud pump and trying to fix it happened. So I got to do a bit more reading than usual. And I chose to re-read an old favorite: A Planet in Arms, by a fella named Donald Barr.
Barr sems to have been an interesting character: educator, engineer, former OSS agent, and the author of a slew of books on everything you can imagine: kids books, tech manuals and two science fiction volumes, this one and the slightly less-political Space Relations.
The thing is that Barr is just a good writer. He has a knack for creating people you enjoy meeting, as well as how those people talk (providing you could talk as cleverly as you'd like to talk), is erudite without being obnoxious about it, and - this is the most critical part - writes clearly, passionately and vividly. His gift for words lift these little books above the standard genre space-opera fare. They're out of print but you can find them at Amazon for surprisingly cheap prices...
Now Mojo knows my taste in junk fiction as well as anyone, which is why she picked up a copy of "The General's Wench" for me the last time she was at the Goodwill. I bring this up only because it drives home the distinction between well crafted junk fiction and junky junk fiction. The Wench was my other take-along novel. and, well, Barr's work is junk fiction: it has no deeper meaning, will not change your life, but it is written with care and love and will return you an investment in images for your time, a sort of little literary scrimshaw valuable for its own craft.
But The Wench? Well, no matter how many wenchings, whippings, skulduggeries and times Sabrina's bosom (a prominent feature of this thing) gets agitated when she peeks through her window and sees Sir John "take a running jump and land ploof" (seriously, no shit actual quote) alongside Molly, the referenced wench, it's still utter crap. And not even really fun crap. The rotten writing, slow pace, poor plotting and wooden characters make it hell to wade through.
So just as there's a big difference between Jane Austin's elegant prose and the tortured morass of Sir Walter Scott, there's a world of difference between the effort put in and the reward obtained from these two throwaway paperbacks.