The Dark Beyond the Stars

Over at Science Fiction Ruminations, Joachim Boaz is talking about generation starship stories again.

It’s an interesting theme, one I always intended to read more of.

So, since I’m still working on new reviews, you get this.

Raw Feed (1992): The Dark Beyond the Stars, Frank M. Robinson, 1991. 

Cover by John Harris

Up until the last six paragraphs, I was impressed by how much Robinson got away with in this book. 

He gives us 408 pages of little physical action or violence bolstered with off the shelf sf elements of dubious plausibility:  shadowscreens whose operation is unclear as is how the falsies (virtual reality projections filtered out — not created — by eye masks) work; a centuries old scheme to breed traits of empathy, sensitivity, and nonviolence into a “new” crew (deliberate breeding for personality traits seems barely plausible) [29 years later, I don’t find either of those things improbable]; an obsessed captain whose personality is locked by millennia old “conditioning” (always a pulp favorite — I remember one review of this book emphasizing Robinson’s love of pulp sf and how it show up here); computers that require great manual dexterity to use effectively.

Yet, it moves, it’s thrilling. 

The book reminded me, with its central character of Captain Michael Kusaka, of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with their mad, obsessed, sometimes violent captains. 

The starship venturing for axons also reminded me of Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero

Robinson gives us a story relying on the quirks and interactions of personalities played (an interesting part is how the recombination of genes through the centuries produces, for Sparrow/Raymond Stone, an echo of previous crew members he’s known) played out (with the case of Stone, Kurasaka, and Thrush) over centuries, long term conspiracies of eugenics and mutiny, the loveliness of being the sole spark of life in the universe, a plausible ship’s culture (lots of sex in this book but it’s not graphic, contrived, or unnecessary), a starship never intended to voyage for longer than 80 years (40 out, 40 back), an Earth vacant of man (very probably, not definitely), the relations of a near immortal to the crew “mayflies”, Sparrow’s discovery of his past lives, constant revelations of intrigue, obsession, and personality. 

In short, an interesting, very well done story (with some good science on why life would be so rare) that Robinson completely sours with his last 6 paragraphs. 

One blurb says this is a fine parable on the preciousness of life. That’s right. But Robinson spoils his sorrowful, mournful, but hopeful mood and theme with an ending that seems contrived, pulpy, and thematically inconsistent: the possibility of a hostile alien life form destroying man on Earth. 

It’s a tonally jarring out of place ending an editor should have removed. Still, I was impressed by the first Robinson I’d read.

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