Rogue Star, Michael Flynn

Tor, 1998, 667 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-54299-1

With 1997’s Firestar, Michael Flynn officially Arrived in SF. Formerly known as an author of a few rather good short stories and co-author of the fannish homage Fallen Angels (With Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle), Flynn flew under the radar of most SF fans until he published his monstrous 800+ pages tome. Firestar was the opening volume of an ambitious near-future saga in which Flynn looked as if he’d be showing all other authors how near-future Hard-SF is done. With its huge cast of characters, deep character development and often exasperating attention to details, Firestar gathered a lot of interest and got some critical attention.

At the time, your reviewer begged to differ. Firestar‘s very ambitiousness dragged down what might otherwise have been a fine hard-SF tale. The huge cast of characters seemed too diffuse for its own good. Flynn’s character development seemed to specialize in making life hard for everyone. There was no happy ending. Not a lot happened, and whatever happened wasn’t worth 800+ pages. Many Messages were passed. Add to that the decidedly libertarian convictions of Flynn’s future (in which governments were evil and only corporations could save the world, yada-yada-yada) and you had an overpadded, somewhat unpleasant book.

Why read Rogue Star, then? For the sheer masochist pleasure of it, maybe. But a strange thing happened on the way to the ending: While still overly long, Rogue Star started to be engrossing, interesting and even -yep- enjoyable.

Rogue Star is where the investment made in the first volume starts to pay off. All these useless, unpleasant characters of the first volume start interacting in a conflicting fashion, and for some reason, this seems rather more interesting than in the first volume. Marissa’s financial empire is in jeopardy; a mission to an asteroid finds more than it bargained for; a blue-collar construction worker confronts sex and violence on an unfinished space station. Fascinating stuff, and more accessibly-written too. Not a whole lot of plot for 600+ pages, though. Someone at Tor better grab some scissors for the next volume.

Still, the result is worth the long read. The space-rigger subplot itself rivals Allen Steele’s similar Orbital Decay in sheer fascination. (Plus, it takes the rather reasonable position that being stoned in a high-risk environment is not a very smart thing to do…) The political and financial shenanigans do seem less naive than Firestar‘s simplistic libertarian positions. The series moves in a more outlandish science-fiction, after the quasi techno-thriller atmosphere of the first volume.

Plus, Flynn sends a neat little curveball in mid-book to all the readers who by now had been softly settling in a very rational hard-SF environment. Suddenly, things get far more interesting. But that’ll have to wait until the next volume, right?

In fact, Rogue Star is a bit worrisome, because it shows that Flynn isn’t nearly finished with the series, which is looking more and more like a future history than a simple trilogy. How many more volumes to go? And how will both the “surprise” and the “expected” (come on; all that foreshadowing about planet-killing asteroids for nothing?) will play? As we might think they will ,or differently? (This is not a glib remark: If we end up with a 2000+ pages series in which the climax is what one can expect after reading Rogue Star, then all the good will established by the book will disappear in a puff of angry smoke. It’s hard to say more without spoiling the book.)

Without being a must-read, Rogue Star is decent hard-SF. Worth a look, especially for those who wondered why they read the first volume of the series.

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