Spinneret - Timothy Zahn "An Earth-type world complete with water and a breathable atmosphere and no metals? That's absurd!"
I was reading another book, but I got so tired of the issues I had with that book, I had to take a break. Plus, I got to meet Timothy Zahn on January 8th, so I was pumped to finish reading my almost complete collection of Timothy Zahn published works!
Humankind (to be politically correct) has finally developed the capacity to travel faster than light. They set upon to leave an overpopulated, overmined Earth (in typical fashion for scifi books written in this era) only to find that the rest of the galaxy is populated by superior aliens. The only world left is Astra, a world strangely without any trace metals. The United Nations decide that the Americans should spearhead the colonization. The Americans in turn assign Colonel Llyod Meredith to oversee Astra's development...and to deal with disputes between the colonists (led by Cristobal Perez) and the military. But things get strange when the planet seems to suck away all metal and produce a six centimeter in diameter cable. Now, all the surrounding aliens want a piece, Astra is a hotspot in the conflict between the United Nations and the United States, and Meredith might lose his tenuous hold on the citizens of Astra.

I Like:
Timothy Zahn is my absolute favorite writer for many reasons. This book showcases one of the biggest reasons: his ability to combine a cool, interesting story with enough realism to make you feel like you are there.
The story of Spinneret is slightly different than most scifi I've read. Space has already been colonized until the only planet left is the dud, the one no one wants. Earth takes it only because it may be the only one they get; then the Americans (those chosen to spearhead the colonization) begin to pour money into what could easily be a money pit. Now, granted, I haven't read all scifi books in print, but I have read a few, and this unique concept intrigued me.
The idea of the planet using metal from things like shelves to plants' soil was really interesting as well, along with the planet making a strand of the strangest material ever. The properties of the material were described in such a way, it was obvious Timothy Zahn was familiar with some basic material science and metal's properties. Throughout the book, Zahn uses scientific terms fairly accurately and with knowledge, that makes the geek in me squee with joy. The scientific technology shows its age (with cassettes to hold data and other 80's-ish gadgets), but oddly enough, it doesn't take away from the story at all.
I found it very easy to get sucked into the book. It has an easy writing style, a quick pace, exciting events, and an intriguing premise. Zahn doesn't hang around, chewing the fat, or leaving the reader to wonder when the story will resume. The story is always going. Everything leads to the final scene, which, while short, is more than adequate.
I know it will sound odd, but the conclusion was definitely satisfying. So many books have a combination of hastily done, overly simplistic, overly optimistic, or childish, but this book's ending makes sense. It has a positive outlook, for sure, but there aren't pages of explaining the last 100 pages for the reader, no "sudden revelations", no "happily ever afters". It was, in all sense of the word, good.

I Didn't Like:
While I adore Zahn, I am not oblivious to his faults, and I felt there were more than a few weak points in this novel.
The characters of Spinneret felt very bland and interchangeable. The major characters (Colonel Meredith, Carmen Olivero, Cristobal Perez, and Dr. Peter Hafner) didn't really feel much different from the other, even though each one comes from different circumstances or backgrounds. Colonel Meredith knew more about geology and other "science-y" stuff than I would have expected from an army officer (even one who is in command of a scientific base like Astra); Olivero miraculously knew how to fly even though she wasn't military (which seemed odd as her job was mostly data crunching); Perez seemed to have one job and that was colony troublemaker, yet was able to figure out how to open the door when Dr. Hafner and Colonel Meredith could not (though you could suppose, since the answer was not complicated, that sometimes "smart" people overthink a problem); and Dr. Hafner felt a bit too much like your stereotypical scientist. In fact, each and every one of the characters knew way more about science than they should (other than Dr. Hafner). And in the end, all become sudden astrogeologists. Overall, I really didn't feel like I got into any of the characters' heads nor could adequately sympathize--no, distinguish--one from another.
Another distracting element was the use of "Um". A character (most frequently, I noticed, Colonel Meredith) would begin a sentence with this word like in the following passage: "Um...Feels awfully smooth for something that's been buried this long." This dialogue feels awkward. I wouldn't say "Um" in this situation; probably "Hm" but not "Um". "Um" always sounds like you are unsure of yourself or gathering your thoughts, but not being thoughtful (which is, I thought, what Colonel Meredith was feeling).
Some of the events are far too easily maneuvered. Colonel Meredith will conveniently let Carmen do *this*. Perez will say *something* that Colonel Meredith will (grudgingly) agree to. Dr. Hafner happens to come to the (correct) conclusion about *that*. I know why it was done, but it still was a little obvious and not always necessary.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
A few swear words grace the pages, but Zahn avoids them for the most part. However, when he does, sometimes it feels awkward and obvious he is trying to avoid swearing.
None. Whatsoever.
The threat of violence hangs in the air as the alien ships surround Astra. Also, Perez joins in a riot against Colonel Meredith's actions. A few soldiers die in an attempted coup, and when the Spinneret is activated

I believe I had tried to read Spinneret some years ago and just couldn't get into it. Well, this time, I did, and it was time well spent. I just wish the characters were a little more distinguishable and unique. Four stars for another enjoyable tale.