Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson
sbisson

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A Monday Morning "Off To Gay Paree" Review: The Wreck Of The River Of Stars

2002/3 has been an excellent year for SF. In the last year I've been privileged to read some of the best and most exciting fiction I've seen since the boom years of the late 80s and early 90s. Michael Flynn's latest novel just raises the bar still further. Loosely connected to the Heinleinian "Firestar" series, The Wreck Of The River Of Stars is one of the most literate SF novels of recent years.

The Wreck Of The River Of Stars is a tragedy. From the very first page you know you're going to be an observer riding along on a slow motion train wreck. A dysfunctional crew, on a dysfunctional ship, put together by a dying captain, they're flying a once great vessel on a tramp circuit betwen the Jupiter and its trojan asteroids. Once a magnetic sail, swooping through the solar system, "The River Of Stars" ios now a fusion powered vessle, steam (as always) finally defeating sail. When the captain dies and the engines fail at a crucial point in a voyage, the crew needs to make a desperate attempt to save themselves - repairing both the snuffed fusion flames and the majestic sweep of the ship's old sails. It's a futile task, and we watch them as they struggle, watch until the very end. And as the ship dies, we see the birth of the ship's AI as an independent, thinking being, to be left, drifting in an empty ship. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, in a string of failed relationships and deaths.

Flynn's writing has taken a leap from the straight-forward prose of the Firestar books to something powerful and dynamic. All through The Wreck Of The River Of Stars Flynn explores the edges of the conventions of science fiction, switching from viewpoint to viewpoint, dropping into the heads of characters and standing well away, a dispassionate observer. For we know that this story is a Greek tragedy, the players walking their allotted paths in front of the knowing chorus, trudging to their several dooms, driven by their pasts and their various chosen presents. Archetypes all, the characters dance their way across the shabby stage of their dying ship. Boys, girls, men and women, all driven to the stars, all running from failure and loss. All struggling to stay alive, despite their flaws and problems.

But despite the tawdry tragedy that underlies the story, there's hope here - hope that no matter what, people try to break through their limitations, that faced with certain death, they rage, rage against the dying of the light. And in that rage, prove the power of the human spirit. And that, perhaps, is the story Flynn is trying to tell.

An excellent and wonderful book.

(If a novel could be a Turner painting, this one would be The Fighting Temeraire.)

Expect to see it on the award lists in 2004.
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