Review: The Wreck of The River of Stars by Michael Flynn

Rating:

The Wreck of The River of Stars by Michael Flynn
2003, Tor

Review Summary: Flynn’s The Wreck of The River of Stars was generally disappointing, though I otherwise have to give the overall effort itself a high mark.

Full Review:

Flynn’s The Wreck of The River of Stars was generally disappointing, though I otherwise have to give the overall effort itself a high mark. His flawed characters were very good, but there were just too many of them, and the veritable catalog of missteps made even before we are dropped into the story, when added to the many catastrophes slowly evolving from page one of the narrative, created a lumbering slow-motion train wreck that unfortunately was just not very gripping until the morbid, moribund end.

In regards to characters, though well-conceived and written, Flynn was missing even one good character to root for, with even the young and inexperienced characters being flawed – or at the very least horribly inexperienced or indecisive – in such a manner as to make them slightly distasteful. This may have been the point, as I’ll discuss a little later here, but it made it difficult to stay with the story when the reader doesn’t really care whether any of the characters survives or not.

Plot-wise, the author does a good job putting together an every-day, ordinary sort of nightmare scenario for a the “working class” type of spacefarer, one in which understandable, ordinary, day-to-day and year-after-year mishaps and egos and human frailties and failings can add up to a total disaster. This is the story of the Titanic’s life had it survived its maiden voyage to become a tramp freighter, suffering its fatal night far towards the end of its useful life, its tragedy restricted to a much smaller scale, with a more intimate setting and more complex set of causes. It just took too long to get there to be enjoyable even as a tragedy

Thematically, I think Flynn may be exploring some sort of Nietzschean scenario where God is dead, in the form of deceased captain Evan Hand, and in the resulting aftermath of a debilitating incident the strong but flawed personalities on board each try to exert their own will to power; in this light the novel seems to be something of a thought experiment, criticizing both the competence and foresight of the god who left the situation behind him as well as those who would espouse “the strong survive” anarchist theories without giving thought to where an unordered struggle for power could lead.

So while I applaud Flynn’s overall effort, and can recommend the book on its technical merits, I’m still left with a bit of a sour feel for the book, it not having entertained me sufficiently to allow me to enjoy the reading experience along with the good technical execution. After reading Flynn’s Eifelheim, I had been hoping for and expecting a more enticing narrative, though I will say that Flynn does seem to have a style for positing unique ideas in his works.

09/05/09 CSL

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