Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: Arkwright by Allen Steele

Arkwright by Allen Steele

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 2016 by Tor Books

This might sound like hyperbole but in the history of Science Fiction novels this might be nerdiest of all hard sci-fi novels ever. Let me say at the start I was rooting for this novel, which is unabashed love letter to Golden Age Science Fiction. One of my favorite sub-genres of speculative fiction is the hard science generational ship novel. The history of these types of novels include classics by giants in the field like Gene Wolfe, Brian Aldiss and Heinlein. In fact one of my favorite novels of last year was a Generational ship novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called Aurora. While I am positive that Steele was working on Arkwright long before the release of Aurora it has become a accidental response. It is unfair for Steele's novel has to stand up to such a master work, but lets face it the books are almost debating each other. I can't help but compare the two books.

Arkwright is a neat concept that fails to live up to it's grand vision mostly because of the paper thin characters and the epic scope that in the right hands could have been stretched over a couple books. The formatting and structure of the story didn't work for me and the ending almost jumped the shark by using what I believe as a reader was the wrong POV. The AI onboard KSR's Aurora had more personality and humanity than just about any human in Arkwright.

The story spans hundreds of years starting with an awkward flashback to the world Science fiction convention in 1939. Blending real and fictional Sci-fi writers Steele creates a history for Nathan Arkwright, A combination of Heinlein and Roddenberry whose "Galaxy Patrol" novels and TV show provides the seed money for a generational starship that takes more than a few generation of his descendants to fund, build and launch. (It also seems that every generation has woman dropping everything their doing to follow a man on this quest - a little odd) Not to spoil the second half of the book but eventually the ship is launched and sent toward a near-by star and founds a colony hundreds of years in the future.

KSR's Aurora was pessimistic look at the idea of interstellar travel with not so subtle desperate plea for humans to take care of the planet they have. Arkwright offers a hard sci-fi look that is clearly more hopeful. It suggests a path for interstellar travel that KSR clearly thinks is impossible. Forget for a moment which book you agree with. Comparing these books is like comparing a Spielberg movie to a Roger Corman produced movie. I really hate to say that as I thought the concept was promising. The book was interesting enough to keep my interest until the end.

Steele has interesting ideas but the story is told without rhythm, with so many characters and jumping generations the story requires structure. That is one thing I thought Steele did well, but without the rhythm, the underdeveloped characters and poorly developed obstacles thrown at them the novel is as flat as a pancake. Obstacles in form of a glossed over terrorist that was contained to a few pages and the threat of near earth astoroid that was curiously unscary. I really wanted to like this book I just couldn't. If you are looking for a "Go team" look at space travel then you might enjoy this book. I clearly didn't. This is a case of a book that I liked less the more I thought about it.

side note: I like Neil Degrasse Tyson I do but the naming of the starship after him in this novel caused eye-rolling. I think we are just seeing to much of him.

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