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.

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On the Fringe - Michael Gordin *****

This little book is a pleasant surprise. That word 'little', by the way, is not intended as an insult, but a compliment. Kudos to OUP for realising that a book doesn't have to be three inches thick to be interesting. It's just 101 pages before you get to the notes - and that's plenty. The topic is fringe science or pseudoscience: it could be heavy going in a condensed form, but in fact Michael Gordin keeps the tone light and readable. In some ways, the most interesting bit is when Gordin plunges into just what pseudoscience actually is. As he points out, there are elements of subjectivity to this. For example, some would say that string theory is pseudoscience, even though many real scientists have dedicated their careers to it. Gordin also points out that, outside of denial (more on this a moment), many supporters of what most of us label pseudoscience do use the scientific method and see themselves as doing actual science. Gordin breaks pseudoscience down into a n

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under