Skip to main content

Skyward: Claim the Stars (SF) - Brandon Sanderson ****

It's a publisher's dream to have a young adult novel that crosses over to an adult audience (do the words Harry Potter ring any bells?) I'd say that with a couple of small provisos, Brandon Sanderson's Skyward: Claim the Stars manages to do this, throwing in aspects of another mildly successful crossover from the movie world, Star Wars.

In many ways this is a classic, hard SF militaristic space novel. Some part of humanity is holed up on a rocky planet, surrounded by the remains of what may have been a Dyson sphere, under regular attack from aliens known as the Krell. (Forbidden Planet, anyone?) A brave bunch of starfighter pilots regularly launch to defend humanity from alien ships, some of which huge bombs that could mean the end of their civilisation if one gets through. And, in this setting, our central character, Spensa Nightshade, undergoes her training as a cadet starfighter pilot. She's the daughter of a disgraced pilot, once hero of the fleet, who apparently abandoned his comrades and had to be shot down as a coward. As a result she's an underdog and constantly in danger of being expelled from the ranks.

There are plenty of traditional elements in there, with the exception of the protagonist being female (as I've commented before, this is the new norm in SF adventure titles). However, Sanderson throws in enough detail and complexity to make the storyline genuinely engaging. There are a couple of unexpected twists and the equivalent of Jedis/the Force in Star Wars provided by a mysterious wrecked ship with super technology and a mystical human ability. Oh and there's a strange alien slug-like creature that can parrot language, which surely is going to be given more to do in a sequel.

Provided, as an adult reader, you are prepared to accept a certain element of juvenilia (I was reminded of Heinlein's Starman Jones from my youth) Skyward draws the reader in and provides continuous page-turning action. Sanderson is also effective in not sparing all the central characters, losing some along the way to battle, personality or politics. The final few chapters particularly were pure unputdownable pleasure. My small provisos were first that the book is too long - J. K. Rowling's books were so much better before she developed uncontrolled bloat, but if the first title in this trilogy is 510 pages, how long will later ones be? And I hated the illustrations, which show the spaceships and their capabilities: they looked just like the pseudo 'technical specs' part of a computer game, which made me feel like I was being set up to buy the game of the book. But that's a minor moan.

I confess, I'm hooked. I'll be waiting for the next volume with considerably more interest than I was with the exploits of Mr Potter.

Hardback:  

Kindle:  

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Everything You Know About Planet Earth is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

This is the latest of a series of 'Everything You Know About... is Wrong' books from Matt Brown. Although I always feel slightly hard done by as a result of the assertion in the title, as there are certainly things here I know that aren't wrong (I mean, come on, the first corrected piece of 'knowledge' is that 'The Earth is only 6,000 years old' and I can't imagine many readers will 'know' that), it's a handy format to provide what are often surprisingly little snippets of information that are very handy for 'did you know' conversations down the pub (or showing up your parents if you're a younger reader).

Some of the incorrect statements that head each article are well-covered, if often still believed (for example, people thought that world was flat before Columbus), some are a little tricksy in the wording (such as seas have to wash up against land) and some are just pleasantly surprising (countering the idea that gold is a rar…