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Starfarers Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1994
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Also disappointing were the characters and characterization. It's a world run by 14-year-olds. I don't think any ages are specified for characters, but all the "good" characters behave like 14-year-olds. Except for one character who seems to be only 12. Mature adults have learned to handle their emotional natures and are not consumed by continual emotional crises, yet these characters seem to exist primarily for that purpose. The main character, who should be, or should become, likeable to the reader, is annoyingly naive and self-centered -- and never grows out of it. Yet, this same character is responsible for navigation calculations upon which the entire starship depends - you would think someone with the mental discipline to undergo the rigorous education in physics would have learned to manage her own emotions a bit better, but you would be mistaken. The main villain is someone I could come to like, with a little more background development. The most likeable or understandable characters of the bunch are two disaffected and displaced people who are only secondary characters.
What is the purpose of the divers and orca society in this story? What does this have to do with space travel? Other than setting up a scenario for one character to make really bad choices ... Buehler? Anyone?
The author pounds her bully pulpit of hatred against America and/or Americans. Just put it away, lady, leave the political rants to the political rags.
The author's notion of a consensus-driven starship is disturbingly naive. I wonder if she thinks engineering and construction problems are amenable to consensual decision-making. The characters behave as though the starship was built just for them (by whom? the government they so hate? elves? or ... ??), but once it is built, the dreamers rule it - consensually, of course. And exactly how this amazing community starship functions physically is not explicated. There are numerous descriptions of the lovely lyrical landscapes, but no clue provided about what keeps them operating. Are there perhaps elves toiling away in the engine room or sludge pit or suchlike? Hey, it worked at Hogwarts and in Bartertown. Oh, wait, I see the original publication date was long long ago ... long predating Harry Potter, well anyway, it has that feel of not-so-well-thought-out, pesky details. Perhaps she actually believes in the quaint communist notion that Boxer will do and enjoy doing all the nasty or unpleasant work for everyone else until the day he dies and all will be beautiful for the lovely physicists and geneticists? None of this is sufficiently disbelief-suspending to make the story enjoyable.
As I said above, disappointing. Needs major updating. Rewriting, even. I give it two stars because I liked the concept of the starship itself, even as sketchily as it was drawn, and I want to know more about it. In a future book, I want to see the Russian, the gardener, and the spy forced to team up to solve a crisis, providing some form of redemption for each of them. And I wouldn't mind if the main characters got tragically killed off by the aliens. But I won't be buying the sequels, so I'll never know.
Warning: spoilers from this point forward!
Near the end there is some excitement and action as the crew ("faculty and staff") face several challenges, both internal and external to the starship. That was interesting! But the lead-up to that part is excruciatingly slow and boring. We keep waiting for some kind of payoff from all this exposition, but when it comes it is a small payoff indeed.
There are also some plot holes: who was it that took down the computer interface at the crucial moment? Never explained, except to say that the bvious suspect didn't do it. Was it the Chancellor (who never actually appears in the book, if memory serves.)
And why is the whole story of the Divers included? I chose a book about starfarers and the author sets a major plot line in the Pacific Northwest with a genetically modified race that lives with orcas. I realize that this part of the story feeds into the political situation in the US, but it is pretty weak as a separate story line. And why would divers from the Pacific Northwest be helpful in spying on political foes in the Middle East?
The key villain, Griffith, is never really explained. Yeah, we know he's there to scuttle the mission (and I smiled at the fact that she made him a GAO guy) but he apparently is an actual spy. We don't get the backstory on him--which might have been interesting. Instead we have to spend time with an intensely self-centered and unlikable "grandparent in space" who dislikes everyone and everything about the ship--except at the end when she suddenly can't bear to leave it?
The author spends quite a bit of time on the relationships of the three members of the family partnership. But quite a bit of this doesn't ring true to me. At a point where the key protagonist is very upset, one of her partners comes into her room, ostensibly to help her deal with the problem and help the family reconnect. Instead, he holds her and the scene suddenly ends.
And if you pop the cork on a champagne bottle in zero gravity and it explodes into the room, wouldn't it get on and into everything and everyone, including the ventilation system? Here it is just a fun way to share the drink with a crowd, apparently.
This is a story about star explorers, according to its title, yet the author chose to focus on the frustrations of administration and politics--the least fun and exciting part. Perhaps this is the first in a series; it feels like that. But if so, there is nothing on/in the book that says that it is "#1 of n"--i.e., there's no warning that it is not a story that is strong enough to stand alone, and that you're committing to read several books if you buy this one.