by Robert Silverberg
Bantam Spectra, ISBN 0-553-10264-8, 1996, 304pp, US$22.95
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper
Robert Silverberg's latest novel takes a lot of familiar science fiction ideas and combines them in a story that keeps promising to go somewhere, but manages to make even the transformation of mankind unexciting.
The spaceship WOTAN has been launched with its crew of fifty by an Earth so bored with Paradise that this is the only excitement they can think of. While it travels through hyperspace to discover a planet that can be colonized, the ship stays in touch with Earth through telepathic twins. The crew explores a couple of planets, with somewhat familiar perils, learns that the twins' link seems to be weakening, and moves on to a climax that rings remarkably flat.
While I was reading this I kept feeling that just a few pages more and it would catch fire, that it was on the verge of something. But it never quite delivered on that, and looking back over it, it seems to have been a book about petty squabbles and personality conflicts more than about exploring the universe. Given that society as a whole is filled with boredom and ennui, I suppose it isn't too surprising that the characters often seem to display these characteristics. For example, there is supposed to be a new captain every year. But after the first year, no one else will take the job, so the same person continues in that position. (This sounds like a lot of organizations I've been in.) The problem is that reading about bored characters is, well, boring. Trying to keep track of who's sleeping with whom doesn't really provide much interest.
As in several of Silverberg's recent books (in particular THE FACE ON THE WATERS and THE KINGDOMS OF THE WALL), the framework is a quest- like journey in which the diversity of characters is really what is supposed to hold your interest. Like many books with such a journey, the arrival is a bit of a let-down, and the problem here is that the characters are not interesting along the way either.
%T Starborne %A Robert Silverberg %C New York %D June 1996 %I Bantam Spectra %O hardback, US$22.95 %G ISBN 0-553-10264-8 %P 304pp
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