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Starfarers Mass Market Paperback – October 15, 1999
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An observatory on the far side of the moon detects strange energy emissions from deep space, which leads to the discovery of space-faring aliens and a drive engine that will power human ships at near light speed. A ship is constructed, and a crew of 10 is chosen to make the trip to try to contact the aliens, even though the ship won't be able to return to Earth for thousands of years. As the explorers reach out to the far side of the galaxy, interacting with three radically different alien races, Earth undergoes a series of radical changes. When and if the crew returns, it is a gamble that they will come back to a recognizable home planet. Master storyteller Anderson uses this backdrop to explore how individuals, cultures, and civilizations react to paradigm shifts and the resulting cycles of expansion and equilibrium. He posits that humanity's desire to explore could ultimately be destructive, but it is integral to our nature. Recommended. Eric Robbins --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Far-future cosmic epic from the veteran author of The Fleet of Stars (1997), etc. Early in the next century, speed-of-light starships become feasible, while astronomers discover that, 5,000 light-years distant, another race is already using starships. So, as various colony vessels depart for nearby stars, an expedition to visit the distant ``Yonderfolk'' gets under way. After a tedious introduction to the crewsix males and four females encompassing the necessary specialties and their various sexual pairingsstarship Envoy departs on a round trip wherein 10,000 years will pass on Earth, while the voyagers age only a few years. As they approach the Yonderfolk's location, however, their starship traces dwindle, and the crew debates whether to continue or return to Earth. Meanwhile, as time passes nearer home, the ``Kithfolk'' of the starfarers become more and more isolated from ordinary society (many of these interludes are stories in their own right). Finally, Envoy encounters the centaur-like Tahir, a race that, having abandoned starfaring, achieved an advanced, stable culture. Humans and Tahir evolve a common language and decide to visit a nearby black hole where an extraordinary intelligence, called the Holont, has been detected. Rejecting the prospect of spending more years in space, megalomaniac crewman Al Brent mutinies, two other voyagers die in the struggle to retake the ship from Brent, and while investigating the Holont, pilot Jean Kilbirnie is killed, though the survivors learn a method to send messages through time. Finally, Envoy returns to Earth, where 11,000 years have passed and their voyage is forgotten. They go back in space, then, to join the colony worlds, where the starfaring urge has not yet been extinguished. An episodic, disconcerting mix of mind-boggling ideas, thrilling storytelling, dull padding, and characters-by-numbers, set forth in Anderson's patented outlandish, antique prose: probably his best-ever full-length outing. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This book also features quite prominently Anderson's preoccupation with civilizational decay, another recurrent theme of his work. Anderson's thinking is an odd combination of pre-modern political theory featuring inevitable cycles of civilization combined with what appears to be a version of Frederick Jackson Turner's ideas about the invigorating effects of frontier expansion.
Relativistic effects mean that thousands of years will pass on Earth and only a brief time for the crew on board. Between chapters on the adventures of the crew, Anderson depicts the changing civilizations on earth, along with the gradual decline of interest in starfaring and the restriction of visiting starship crews to a ghetto.
While Anderson makes the interesting suggesting that space travel may only be a brief phase in a species's evolution, this is a frustrating book, featuring many of the perennial flaws of Anderson's style but magnified and feeling something like a halfhearted effort.
For one, Envoy has a motley crew: a Hungarian, Israeli, Scotswoman, Chinese, Zulu, etc. Anderson may have thought he was adding color and authenticity by having them speak in dialect or make reference to their homes, but really these are a bunch of ethnic stereotypes. Only people who think that e.g. the Irish walk around greeting each other with "Top of the mornin' to ye" will be able to suspend disbelief.
Artificial intelligence and personal computing are absent. The lack of the former is easy to understand: Anderson was an ardent Libertarian, and as he set out in his earlier series beginning with HARVEST OF STARS, he believed that the rise of super-human intelligence would lead to central planning and quench human initiative. The lack of more computing than the screens that the crews consult is inexcusable: by the time Anderson wrote this book, PDAs existed and technology was moving to smaller form factors, but his people of future have no more tech than what could have been imagined in the 1950s.
Finally, the dialogue is often risible, with characters discussing basic aspects of the plot with each other after they have already lived and worked closely with each other for years. For a novelist with a career of a half-century behind him, it is strange how Anderson forgets the "show don't tell" principle.
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The book starts off well enough but drags on and on the further you read into it.Read more
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