December 21st, 2002

The Friday Night "Buffy Watching" Review: The Fleet Of Stars

Robert Heinlein built the first future history back in the '40s and '50s, and since then it has become a staple of the science fiction field: novels and short stories in a single consistent background. While they can espouse such wide ranges of themes as Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution stories and Larry Niven's Known Space travelogues.

Poul Anderson's Harvest Of Stars sequence of deliberately Heinleinesque future history novels finally comes to an end with The Fleet Of Stars.

Anson Guthrie has succeeded in spreading humanity to the stars, in a balanced realtionship with machines. Meanwhile back in the solar system, the Cybercosm is cementing its control over a recovering Earth, and bringing humanity back to the nest by shutting down Martian terraforming and out thinking the fiercely independent Lunarians out in the Oort Cloud.

Guthrie has learnt something of developments in the Solar System, and sends an upload back to finds out just what is happening. He arrives in the middle of a slow conflict between man and machine, where the key to victory is the supressed data from a powerful telescope that uses the Sun's gravity to focus the light from the galactic centre. Is this news of life outside humanity's limited domain?

Anderson's story should be compelling. After all, he's a master writer, who's produced some of SF's best known novels and series, and this is the climax of a long road with our hero. Instead we get a story that's slow and turgid, a story that seems to have lost its way in the libertarian politics of the debate between the paternalistic cybercosm and Guthrie's rampant expansionism. Even the token seeker of truth seems more charicature than character, despite the tragedy that culminates his quest for truth.

This is a 250 page novel hidden in 400 pages - the unnecessary 150 pages are just padding and waffle that could have easily been excised during edits. It's a pity, as this could have been an excellent book, instead of merely adequate...
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The "It's My Birthday" Review: Children Of The Star

There are books that you read when you're 10 that change who you are, and what you are going to become. For me one of those books was Sylvia Engdahl's Heritage Of The Star (published in the US as This Star Shall Abide). The story of Noren's rebellion from the restrictions of accepted thought was moving and engaging, and his journey to discover the truth behind the prophecies and laws that structured the world one that inspired my life in science and technology. It was a book I went back to again and again for many years, a story that affected me in more ways than I can possibly count.

But there was one thing I didn't know: it wasn't a stand alone novel. In fact, it was the first of a trilogy. While the UK publisher felt the story ended well, Engdahl had actually realised there was much to tell, and two volumes, Beyond The Tomorrow Mountains and The Doors Of The Universe followed.

While wandering the dealers room at the ConJose, I found myself spending time at the Meisha Merlin stand, picking up collections and reprints of long lost, much loved books. It was there that I found Children Of The Star, a single volume collection of all the Noren novels. Not surprisingly it found its way back to the UK...

So does the trilogy mean as much as the original novel? Certainly it expands on Engdahl's original ideas, and comes to an unexpected conclusion. But nearly 30 years have passed since I first read Heritage Of The Star, and I'm a very different person, and that's surely got to have some sort of effect. And it does. It's still an enjoyable read, but the blind acceptance of the population as a whole of the Prophecy at the heart of the novels doesn't ring true any more. Still, I can happily suspend disbelief in far weirder things, and Engdahl's writing more than makes up for the minor niggles.

A recommended trilogy. Probably as a whole better suited for a young teen than the 10 year old, but a worthy read with lots of ideas and questions to stretch any mind - of any age.
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