Completed 1/22/2017 Reviewed 1/24/2017
The captain of a spaceship and her crew are on an exploratory mission to Saturn. They discover a new moon and quickly realize that it appears to be a generations ship. When they approach the moon-ship, it seizes them, destroying the ship and burying them. Sometime later, the crew emerges from the ground in what is reminiscent of birthing. They are not near each other when they emerge, and they are naked and hairless. Eventually they find one another as they explore this strange world, meet its inhabitants, and search for its creators.
I was pretty surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. Written in 1979, the book has a vintage feel to it, where the emphasis is more on discovery and exploration. If this were a film, there would be a lot of scenes requiring the actors to have a look of awe on their faces. But as a book, it worked really well. It reminded me of some of Arthur C. Clarke’s work, where the emphasis is on the wonder, and a little less on the plot.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book is its progressive approach to issues of gender, race, and sexuality. The captain is a woman, Cirocco “Rocky” Jones. For 1979, I thought this was quite surprising. There are also lesbian relationships in the book. To be fair, there are a lot of relationships in the book. It takes the premise that on a long distance, long term mission, there’s going to be some coming together of people on the ship. In fact, the whole beginning seems to be about the different permutations the crew had gone through. At first, it seemed a little off-putting, but it certainly added to the back story of the crew and set the reader up for the later interpersonal conflicts.
The author looks at race relations through the intelligent beings that inhabit this place. Specifically, there are two creatures, centaurs and angels, who for some unknown reason, engage in battle whenever they come across each other. It’s almost as if it’s in their DNA. To say more would be a spoiler.
The book is told through Rocky’s perspective, so of course her character is the most fleshed out. Still, most of the characters get good scenes and are more than cardboard cutouts. What’s really cool is that each of the characters gets something akin to a special power having gone through their rebirthing. Several of them can communicate with one of the several intelligent species. One actually turns into one of the species. For the most part, these powers are benevolent, but it does cause for some problems among the crew.
I give this book four out of five stars. It is also the first of a trilogy, though the book stands on its own. I liked that. I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the trilogy any time soon. But this book was a cool, mostly fun romp through Varley’s imagination.