Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Dark Beyond the Stars

Frank M Robinson
Completed 5/9/2020, Reviewed 5/9/2020
5 stars

This is the first book in a long time where I felt sad to see it end.  I became emotionally involved with the main character.  Needless to say, I loved this book.  I had read other books by Robinson when I was a teenager, namely “The Glass Inferno” and “The Prometheus Crisis”.  But I read this book because it won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Sci Fi/Fantasy in 1992.  However, it doesn’t have much gay content.  In fact, the characters are bisexual and the predominant long-term-pairing is straight.  So I’m not sure why the book was even nominated in this category.  However, it was a fantastic book about a generation ship with mutiny on the minds of some of the crew. 

Sparrow is a crewmember on the Astron, a generation ship in search of life on other planets.  He has just had a bad fall while on a scouting team on a candidate planet.  Besides the broken bones, bruises, and cuts, he suffers from amnesia.  He must relearn that he is on the Astron, that it has been away from Earth for two thousand years, and that the captain wants to take the ship into the space between the arms of the galaxy, “the dark”.  This last part is the source of conflict on the ship, as it is old and falling apart, and because no one believes they have the resources to last the journey into the next arm.  This thrusts Sparrow into the midst of mutinous talk while he is still trying to put back together the missing pieces of his life.

As far as space operas go, this was one of the best I ever read.  It’s told from Sparrow’s point of view, so it has a fairly straight forward narrative.  It doesn’t get convoluted with multiple story lines and multiple sub-plots from multiple points of view.  Nonetheless, we do get the motivations of all the major characters in the book, including that of the ruthless, driven Captain Mike Husaka.  Husaka is nearly immortal, having been engineered to never grow old and never fall ill.  So over the two thousand years they’ve been searching for extraterrestrial life, he has become more and more obsessed with finding it, despite the failure to find any trace of life on the hundreds of worlds they’ve already searched. 

I really liked the whole amnesia trope as a way of unraveling the history of the ship without relying too much on info dumps and exposition.  It makes for some great tension between Sparrow and the other characters as he develops a mentor-worship-like relationship with the captain, when clearly, he had a role in the mutiny discussions in his pre-amnesia life.  It makes for great character development of Sparrow as basically evolves from a clean slate to someone of great importance on the ship.  Overall, I thought the character development was pretty spectacular considering there were an awful lot of characters in the book.

I thought the writing was marvelous.  It was great prose without being overly flowery and had believable dialogue.  The author was in his heyday in the ‘70s, and it really showed in this book.  It reminded me of the types of books I read back in high school during that decade, like “Trinity” by Leon Uris and “Centennial” by James Michener.  It had a great concept with lots of interpersonal interaction for character development. 

I give the book five stars out of five.  I think it’s because the book evoked the warmth of those novels I read in the ‘70s.  But it’s also because I became very involved in the journey of Sparrow and the recovery of his memory.  I just saw a meme about crying at the end of a book that you loved so much because you got to the end.  That’s how I felt about this book. 


  1. I've often thought about picking this up when I've come across it in used bookstores, and now I wish I had. The John Harris cover catches my eye every time.

    the good news is that it is always fun to go into the few local used bookstores we have with decent SF sections and have a list of stuff I am looking for, and this will be going on the list. I cannot wait for these stores to reopen. I have the desire for bookstore retail therapy something fierce!

    1. I like picking up books at Orycon as well (the Oregon SF Convention). They usually have a few local used book resellers. Good to see you around Carl!

    2. I noticed a couple of our used bookstores have opened back up, so I'm going to need to scratch that itch and get out there soon.