Starborne

Starborne
Robert Silverberg

Short post this week due to craziness in The Attic. Also sun, which in these parts is cause for celebration. It’s like Venus in that one depressing Bradbury story kids always have to read, but we don’t lock anyone in closets here when the rain stops. Fortunately, Starborne is the perfect subject for a short essay, since it is a minor work and doesn’t really inspire lengthy rambling.

My ebook copy of Starborne was the free book of the month some time ago in Phoenix Picks, after which it languished on my Kindle until the last Japan trip forced me to read some of the backlog. It is also my first Silverberg, which, considering his stature in the field, is rather unfortunate. Something more impressive might have been nice. I have other books lying around, but never got to them; so it goes. Starborne is a contemplative book, low on drama and action, though fun in its own way.

The pace of the book syncs to the Japanese game of go, the favorite pastime on a ship full of people sent out from Earth to find a new planet to colonize. They maintain contact with Earth through a telepathic connection between two blind twins, one each on the ship and on Earth. What tension there is in the book comes when this connection attenuates, with nary an explosion or laser gun to be found. There are bits of planetary exploration, but those aren’t really the point of the book. Instead it’s more of a meditation on humanity and how we might push ourselves to a higher state.

Just as entertaining as the book are the reviews on Goodreads, most from disgruntled Hard SF fans complaining about one or another bit of flawed science and grumping at the total lack of engineering feats. There are also disapproving mentions of the free-love, lounge around in bathhouses ethos that pervades the ship that are good for a chuckle. I’m guessing that the space battle and/or alien invasion types didn’t make it past the first chapter. I wouldn’t recommend this to them anyway; it’s only for those seeking a more relaxing and philosophical read. Philosophical might be a strong word – it’s not hugely deep or profound, but I would put it a step above navel gazing.

A final observation before I send this out in the series of tubes that comprises the internet. I read this and Van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle within a month or two of each other; they are now hopelessly tangled up in my head. Not that they have anything in common beyond a voyaging spaceship, but my memories swing wildly between pulp action and restrained character emoting, wacky pseudoscience and metaphysical murmuring. Both authors would probably be appalled to hear this, but what can I do?

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