Ace, 1977, 278 pages, C$2.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-440-18367-7
Spider Robinson. There’s no one else like him in science-fiction.
Whereas SF has traditionally been logical, mechanistic, goal-driven, conservative and scrupulously clean, Spider Robinson comes from a background that’s far away from the scientific education shared by many of hard-SF’s core membership. He has described in interviews how he had his big break in SF as his regular job was to guard a sewer plant at night. He’s stayed on both coasts of Canada, first Nova Scotia then British Columbia. He’s had some association with communes, is an outspoken drug advocate and looks exactly like one would stereotypically imagine a hippie.
His novels reflect his background, being almost pathologically filled with motifs of universal love, friendship and happiness. His characters -usually narrators; his novel are almost always told from the first person point of view- are charmingly imperfect, yet paradoxally far more tolerant and self-describingly morally superior to your usual human. Most of his stories include one or several rants about how (pick one) intolerance, sexual monogamy, fear of communicating, racism, sexism, narrow-mindedness or other “so-typical” human traits are generally messing up the world.
Stardance isn’t really any exception. An expanded version of Hugo and Nebula-winning novella of the same name, Stardance is narrated by Charlie, an ex-dancer made audiovisual technician by an untimely accident. He meets Shara, a dancer too big for one-gee work who finally decides to invent zero-gee dance. Suddenly, aliens appear and Shara’s super-dance convinces them not to destroy the Earth. End of original novella and the first third of the novel.
I’m being needlessly flippant; Robinson’s greatest strength is how he can write about almost anything and make interesting through the narration. An easy prose style with carefully-chosen details and heaps of humour make up for many structural weaknesses. Even though the magically-dancing-the-aliens-away bit isn’t truly credible in itself, the novel does a good job at suspending our disbelief at this point.
The rest of the novel follows Charlie as he sets up a zero-gee dancing school and gets whisked away to Jupiter for another race-saving dance session. (STARDANCE II: ELECTRIC BUGALOO!) It’s a hugely readable tale, reasonably well-paced and populated with interesting characters. His zero-gee assumptions are curious, but then again Robinson isn’t a Hard-SF writer.
Even then, however, the book remains slightly annoying. It took me some time to figure out what it was, but when I did, it struck me that this flaw of Robinson’s work could be applied to his whole work.
If you accept the theory that Spider Robinson is SF’s hippie representative, it makes sense to assume that his work will promote the ideals of this culture. Check: His whole Callahan series, for instance, creates a family-slash-support-group through a bar where everyone knows everyone’s name. Time Killer spend way too many pages promoting an idealistic view of a 1973 commune.
However, this message of peace-love-happiness carries a none-too-explicit counter message: If you can’t love everyone else, if you can’t realize that serial monogamy is selfish and bad, if you can’t tolerate everyone then you’re scum, you’re despicable, you’re not invited to Spider Robinson’s parties and frankly, you’re not even worthy of calling yourself human. Bang. Like that. In other words, there’s a current of intolerance-for-the-intolerant that runs in all of Robinson’s fiction. It’s made worse by the holier-than-thou stand he himself takes on the subject. Liberals may grind their teeth at conservative novels, but at least conservatives don’t make any attempt to pretend they love everyone!
Stardance goes through the same motions by clearly highlighting that zero-gee isn’t for everyone, and that only superior adaptable humans deserve to be in zero-gee. (His last-minute amendments are bunk.) Everyone else goes back in the gene pool. How tolerant…
(In some future review, I’ll take on another Spider Robinson annoyance of mine; how individualism isn’t worth a damn for him.)