Skip to main content

Starsight (SF) - Brandon Sanderson *****

The first book in this trilogy, Skyward, was good - but Starsight isn't in the same league. It's ten times better. From the opening few pages where we are plunged into a dogfight in space, readers are sucked into an adventure that doesn't let up. The previous novel was slow starting, but got to be a real page turner in the last few chapters - here, the need read on is relentless from the very beginning.

Apart from not needing to introduce the main character Spensa and go through the process of reassembling her find of a unique intelligent ship, which runs through the first half of the original novel, what really makes this addition to the trilogy so much better is it dispenses almost entirely with the juvenilia. Spensa may still be a teenager, but she spends the majority of the book away from her friends and what results is a much more mature piece of writing. It can still be read and enjoyed by younger readers, but it works far better for the older reader by effectively being ageless: this is the best kind of crossover.

In the first book, the enemy aliens were pretty much faceless - here we go into full Star Trek mode as Spensa goes on an undercover mission and discovers a whole mix of aliens from suspiciously humanoid to downright strange. This includes a race who appear to be vaporous and another with one of the most original means of reproduction I've come across. If there's a fault with the aliens, as Zaphod Beeblebrox's analyst might have said, 'They're just people, you know?' They might be physically very different, but the personalities were consistently anthropomorphic. Having said that, it gives Brandon Sanderson an opportunity to bring in the idea that 'the enemy' are not faceless fiends, but intelligent entities trying to get on with their lives.

As well as giving Spensa and her increasingly human AI-driven ship a very satisfying mission, the book opens up a much deeper threat to the fragile existence of the human outpost Spensa was born on, and explores the nature of Spensa's special ability. Although it's not difficult to guess the big reveal of the nature of the aliens' faster-than-light drive at least 100 pages earlier than it comes, there is still an intriguing complexity in the new discoveries that emerge in what elsewhere might be known as hyperspace.

We don't totally abandon Spensa's friends on her home planet, with a couple of interludes taking us back to them, and there is some character development for at least one of them. We also find out more about Spensa's strange alien slug-like pet. In my review of Skyward I said it 'surely [the slug] is going to be given more to do in a sequel'. This does happen - though I'm not sure if we are seeing a typo or an indicator of more reveals to come in a line where, in parroting Spensa, the slug corrects her grammar.

I thought the first book was too long. Starsight is only 50 pages shorter at around 450 pages, but this feels just right. There's an awful lot of action to get in, and enough genuinely clever depth to continue to intrigue the reader, and to make me already eager for volume three.

If I were to sum it up with a pop culture note, Starsight is Terminator 2 to Skwyard's Terminator.

Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 

An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …