Kevin J. Anderson. Island in a Sea of Stars. (Tor.com May 2014)

tor‘An adventure from The Saga of Shadows: The Dark Between the Stars’ it says on the Tor.com website, where the story is freely available. This means nothing to me, as my SF novel reading is negligible (about one per year), so the chance to read something from a prolific and successful SF author who doesn’t do much in terms of short SF, was one I grabbed with both hands (holding my iPad as it were).

Sad to say, I was largely unmoved. It’s a fairly utilitarian story, progressing quickly and with everything pretty much helpfully explained (told not shown). There’s some basic characterisation and description. “His charcoal-colored suit fit him well. A frosting of gray at the temples of his dark brown hair gave him a distinguished look. He was a man who inspired respect and confidence at first glance” reads a little to me like a description you would give to a creative writing class and get them to do a better job of. “Elisa was a lovely woman with well-sculpted features, a pointed chin, and a generous mouth” ditto, with the use of ‘lovely’ being quite subjective and not appropriate as it’s not a character POV description.

The setup is a bit cliched and difficult to accept : scientist finds data that suggests the mining operation on a lava-planet is at huge risk of imminent destruction, but the corporate head pooh-poohs the data. Guess what happens? Surely in an advance space-faring environment, data would analyses and proven to be erroneous or correct?

Anyhoo, the scientist flees with his son, and through his musings we find out about his background, and the society he is from. There corporate head bids for a senior post in the galactic council (or somesuch) and for a horrible moment, as he was preparing his presentation, I thought we were going to have his PowerPoint slide deck described slide by slide!

So, a bit of a disappointment all in all. The ‘lovely’ female character is under stress as her parental responsibilities are seen as getting in the way of her doing her job, which seems very 1990s, and a long way from the SF novel I’m currently reading, Anne Leckie’s ‘Ancillary Justice’ which of course has an altogether different take on gender roles.

The story ends on a ta-raa revelation (“Gordon is Alive!”), and following a link from the Tor site rather suggests that this is in fact the first few chapters from a novel, rather than a story. And it just feels like work by someone who is producing 2000 words a day for long stretches of the year, and pretty much goes with the first draft.

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