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The Wreck of the River of Stars
by Michael Flynn
A Tor Paperback, 2003, $17.99, 480pp
Release Date: March 26, 2013
The Wreck of the River of Stars is epic in scope and voice. The author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, were he alive today, would weep to hear it, not from envy, for great souls are peculiarly immune to that basest of departures from grace, so much as from amazement and pity for all the splendid failures of which humanity is capable.

Here are the bare bones of the plot, but I can convey nothing of the richness, the dazzling complexity and arrow-swift insights contained in this book:

Originally constructed as a luxury cruise liner, MSS The River of Stars was stripped, retrofitted and auctioned off; a mere 33 years after her initial, glorious launch, she has been reduced to a tramp freighter with a skeleton crew of derelicts rescued from various oblivions by a kind-hearted captain – who now is dying.

With the captain’s passing, and the jockeying for position that follows, no one is quite paying as much attention as they ought to their monitors, not even the ship’s own AI, so when an asteroid – the space equivalent of an iceberg, in that the apparent size gives no indication of the colossal harm one can inflict – strikes as if it were Luke Skywalker making his final run on the Death Star, River of Stars begins the slow, inexorable transition from home and livelihood to coffin for her crew.

Who the crew members are, how they wound up on the River of Stars , how they react to the crisis and each other, and how they labor to save the ship makes for some of the best hard SF you will ever encounter. Engineers, on macro and micro scales, are the almost-heroes, but even the most obnoxious git of the entire crew makes contributions.

I am used to expecting great characterizations from writers who are light on the nuts and bolts of SF, and great plotting from authors who know their science but can’t write good characters to save their lives. Flynn does both science and psychology superlatively well.

I’m still trying to figure out, if the trio of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn, coauthors of Fallen Angels, were a three-headed Chimera, which head would be Flynn’s. Sapient he is, so that would suggest the serpent’s; but his majestic mastery recommends the lion’s; and his devious, twisting humor is decidedly goatish. All those qualities are on display here, to almost unbearable degrees of intensity. This book is the literary equivalent of single malt, 50-year Scotch, or a port that Lord Peter Whimsey would decant for royalty.

So pick up a copy, or download one, sit back in your favorite chair, or favorite place, maybe with a beverage to hand, and go for a ride like no other. It may be doomed, but that just means you get to be one of the survivors. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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