Vonda N McIntyre
Completed 11/2/2019, Reviewed 11/3/2019
This book starts out incredibly slowly, so slowly that I never thought I’d get through it. I could barely get ten pages read a night before passing out from exhaustion and well, boredom. Very little happened and I couldn’t see where it was going. Then Saturday came and I picked it up after a good night’s sleep. What I thought was boring was well over a hundred pages of character introduction and world-building. It slowly began to pick up its pace and then finished with a hundred pages of breakneck action. It’s the first of a four part series and this book serves as the introduction to the remaining three books. With a title like “Starfarers”, you’d think this book was about space travel. Well, since it’s an introduction, it’s everything that leads up to the space travel part. You could easily see this book as the first season of a TV series with terrific cliffhanger for the last episode.
The plot is fairly simple. The Starfarer’s mission was to seek out alien life. Due to a change in the presidency and increased tensions in the Middle East, the US wants to repurpose the ship for the military. It’s up to a scrappy polyamorous, multi-cultural trio to save the ship from this change of plan. There are a host of side characters with subplots, some smaller, some larger, that come into play. The most interesting is that of JD, the alien specialist who is enamored with divers, genetically modified humans who live underwater as well as on land. Her subplot weaves in and out of the main plot as her diver friend Zev is chased by the military on Earth while she is integrating herself into the crew of the Starfarer.
The polyamorous, multi-cultural trio, Victoria, Stephen Thomas, and Satoshi, are main characters of the book. Victoria is the commander of the Starfarer. She’s black and Canadian. Stephen Thomas is a blond hunk of mixed ethnic background. Satoshi is a Japanese-American. They are, of course, bisexual. There was a second woman, bringing the relationship member count up to four, but she died in an accident. The three are learning to live without her, but it is difficult because she was the relationship manager. The character development was pretty good, though the book only takes place over the course of a few weeks at the most. At first, I thought the characters were a bit wooden, but McIntyre fleshes them out pretty well. JD is also a pretty good character, being described as a bigger woman, though she can swim with the divers. All in all, a pretty diverse cast of characters for a book written nearly thirty years ago.
There are several other minor characters worth noting. Kolya Cherenkov is a former Soviet cosmonaut who is basically stranded on the Starfarer because there is a death edict out on him from the Middle East. If he returns to Earth, he’ll be killed. He is mostly a hermit, but has an interesting perspective on the events happening around him. There’s also an old woman whose name I can’t remember who adds some levity as well as intensity to their situation. She’s there as part of the Grandparents Initiative, a movement to get older people up to the ship to increase the age diversity of the crew. Lastly, there’s Griffith, the bad guy. He’s a government man, posing as someone who works for the GAO, but is probably part of the military as it plans its takeover of the Starfarer. He would have been a two-dimensional character, except for his infatuation with Cherenkov, which is the only thing that can divert him from his primary purpose.
The plot is pretty thin, but as I mentioned before, this book is really an introduction to the characters and world-building. I’m guessing the rest of the books have more of a plot than this one. Still I thought this book held its own once it got going. I was going to give it three stars, but the terrific climax and the setup for the rest of the series made me up it to four stars. I must say that I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by McIntyre, which amounts to two books now. Her Hugo and Nebula Award winning Dreamsnake was one of the best books I read back in my quest to read all the Hugo winners. This book isn’t award worthy, but I agree with her quote that this was her best TV series never made.