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Star Dragon Hardcover
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From Publishers Weekly
Readers hungry for the thought-provoking extrapolation and rigorous technical detail of old-fashioned hard SF are sure to enjoy astronomer Brotherton's first novel. The thinly characterized crew of the Karamojo has been hand-picked to travel 250 light years to SS Cygni, a binary star system, to capture a star dragon, an exotic creature seemingly comprised of stellar plasma and magnetic fields. Despite her "striking" good looks, Capt. Lena Fang is all business, only revealing her "feminine" side in the "timelessly girlish" trappings of her private quarters, and in her dealings with the ship's AI, modeled on a decidedly soft-hearted vision of Hemingway. In contrast, exobiologist Dr. Samuel Fisher and biosystems engineer Axelrod Henderson are both uptight and ruthlessly focused on their work. Fisher's manipulative sexual relationship with Fang threatens the crew's ability to work together, while Henderson secretly plots to release a virus that will impregnate every female on Earth with his offspring. When they eventually reach SS Cygni, the star dragons prove surprisingly sneaky. Brotherton's strength is in the technical rigor of his setting, with truly alien creatures and biomods that can alter the human body into the most exotic of life forms. Readers willing to overlook the less-than-convincing characters will find an amazingly detailed world and a story full of scientific wonder.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* A probe launched in the late twenty-first century to the classic dwarf nova system SS Cygni has sent back hours of video, including a few minutes that show a serpentine form not only twisting lazily but also turning in a purposive way suggestive of intelligence. The Biolathe Corporation is sending a spaceship to study the dragonlike form, determine whether it is of natural or artificial origin, and, perhaps, return with a specimen. The round-trip voyage will take about three years of the crew's subjective time; meanwhile, 500 years will have passed on Earth. Eagerly joining the crew of three men and two women, exobiologist Sam Fisher becomes ever more obsessed with what he considers his dragon. Star Dragon is steeped in cosmology, the physics of interstellar travel, exobiology, artificial intelligence (in the form of the ship's brain, which is modeled on Ernest Hemingway), bioscience, and other things. Just as important to the plot are the dynamics and interactions of the very well developed characters, each of whom has personal reasons for making the long journey. Brotherton, author of many scientific articles in refereed journals, has written a dramatic, provocative, utterly convincing hard-science sf novel that includes an ironic twist that fans will love. Sally Estes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
A crew of five embarks on a voyage to investigate, and if possible capture, a mysterious "dragon" that has been spotted in the super-hot plasma disk around the star SS Cygni. The round trip will take two years subjective time, but 500 years will elapse on Earth. As you might imagine, such a voyage would attract some extremely interesting characters, and this is one of the main strengths of the book. Each character has incredible depth and complexity, which is only magnified by their interactions (and conflicts) with each other. Every sub-section within a chapter is focalized through (i.e. told from the viewpoint of) a different character, so the reader gets multiple perspectives on the same series of events. Another strength of the book is the author's imagination of how technology might change society in the future, when genetic and biological engineering allow humans to become practically immortal. This book will also teach you a lot about cataclysmic variable stars, hypothetical (but plausible) physics of interstellar flight, and exobiology.
On the negative side, I thought the pace of narration became a little stagnant. I could have used a little less character interaction, and little more plot: tension gradually rises, some interesting twists happen, but nothing that completely made my jaw drop. At times the book tries to get philosophical, but it never acquires the depth to count as "literature." Still, it's not excessively long, and it comes to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. Overall, I found it quite memorable; some of the visuals, in particular, are beautifully described and will stay in my imagination for a long time.
There were no major flaws, but it would be hard to identify with any of the characters, so you are unlikely to be as involved as you might be with, for instance, a David Weber, David Drake, or Dave Duncan character.
If Mike writes another book I will buy it. He is going to get better.
Star Dragon is set in the near future, in the late 26th-Century. It is a world in which biotechnology is omnipresent, and occupies a niche that in most other SF works would be filled by robotics: there are biodevices that act as assistants, "fishes" that deal with environmental waste processing, and even biochairs ("chairbeasts" is the descriptive term used by the author) that are perfectly suited to the preferences of their owners. All these devices are created from biomass when needed, and recycled when no longer useful or when higher priorities arise. Biotechnology also applies to humans, and although not yet to the extent of achieving immortality, life expectancies are counted in centuries. Besides expected feats such as nanomedical bots in the blood, "body modules" are available to change both aesthetic (one of the characters has at the beginning of the novel some small wings behind the ears), and deeper physiological aspects.
The novel begins when Biolathe, a biotechnology company, recruits experts for a mission. A probe launched in late 21th-Century to SS Cygni -at 250 light-years from Earth- has sent video images showing what looks like an alien life form. SS Cygni is a so-called cataclysmic variable, a binary system consisting of a main sequence star and a white dwarf: gas flows from the secondary star towards the primary (white dwarf) forming an accretion disk around it. It is precisely in this disk where the creature that gives its name to the novel is spotted. The mission is going to the system and retrieving samples of the creature, whose biotechnological value can be incalculable.
The team for this mission is composed of Fang (the captain of the ship), Fisher (the exobiologist), Stearn (techno-engineer), Henderson (the bio-engineer), Deveraux (astrophysics), and Papa (an artificial intelligence that controls the ship). Gender imbalance does not become a significant part of the plot, despite two couples are formed. A much more important issue will be that the objectives (or rather, priorities) of the exobiologist and the captain are different: the former develops a protective instinct towards the dragon, whereas the latter would rather bomb the accretion disk and settle for a dragon corpse. This difference of opinions is accentuated to the point of provoking sabotage attempts, but when the time to haunt a dragon arrives, these turn out to be much more difficult to kill than expected, and the very survival of the ship force cooperation among crew members.
Throughout the novel, the stylistic similarity (sought or not) to Robert L. Forward is evident both in the extensive description of the dynamics of the system (the accumulation of material in the accretion disk causes a dwarf nova from time to time, which should be taken into account during the development of the mission) as in the description of the physiology of the dragons (whose existence is effectively explained). The climax may be regarded as satisfactory, thus rounding a quite enjoyable novel (especially for those who like hard science fiction.)
This is Mike Brotherton's second book, and writes much like the professor he is - that's good when it comes to carefully realized scientific setups, but not so good when it comes to a page-turning narrative or a strong sense of character. That means that Boomers who grew up reading hard-science scifi will feel right at home, but those expecting a little more nuance might not be as entertained. You pays your money and you takes your choice ...