Anne Rand in Space

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Over the past month’s drive time I worked my way through the long and highly-detailed Firestar (Firestar Saga) by Michael Flynn on Audible.

The story reads like Stargate as it might be told by Anne Rand.  It is the story of a rich industrialist who believes that the world is in danger of destruction by asteroid strike, and to keep humanity from being wiped out like the dinosaurs she starts a one-woman crusade to save the world by reaching out to space.

Firestar is near-future hard sci-fi.  It isn’t so much a race against aliens and psychic demigods.  It is a race to change the scope of human habitation in the universe.  Flynn tackles real logistical barriers to the sci-fi future that the 1950’s used to imagine so vividly.  The education system is broken, and a spacefaring generation needs better education, so the opening salvo starts in the mid-90’s American schools.  The beats of this drama are played out in industry, personal develoment, test pilots, and CEO’s trying to make companies work for the good of an ignorant or unwilling mankind.

As a literary critic I have one big problem with Flynn: His urban slang is painful.  It is inaccurate, some of it ripped off of bad 1970’s novels and the rest is worse.  The urban slang of the school is the most horrible attempt I’ve ever seen.  It’s an epic failure.

But the novel was a Hugo Award nominee for some reasons.  Accept that Flynn has never been to an inner city with his hearing aids on, and the rest plays out well.  The story in this first book swims through some fifteen years of near-future (now I would have to describe it as an alternative history).  I really enjoyed some of the hits and misses Flynn’s 2000-2010.

To mention some of the things touched upon by other critics: Flynn’s story has a large cast, and he has been criticized for his use of stock characters.  Well, it is not a character drama as much as it is the narrative of a historical movement.  Walking stereotypes abound.  This does not take much away from the work itself, honestly.  The characters start out as stock, but they do grown and change in some pleasant ways over the sweep of the first novel.  The archetypes are seeds, but there are character conflicts and growth.  I had a really hard time with the egotistical womanizing test-pilot’s narrative, but enjoyed who he was by the end of the story largely because of the journey he took to get there.

Hard sci-fi action appeals to adults and history buffs more than the comic-book crowd.  I have a foot on either side of that fence (being a comic dude, I refuse to ever grow up).  I want to get my hands on a copy of this to give to a nerdy friend of mine who teaches 6th grade.

The book is written from an early-years libertarian point of view.  Religion does not play a big role in it (either Jesus-worship or humanity/Earth worship from the other side) either way.  There was much more sex in the story than I had anticipated for a hard sci-fi novel, but it was not prurient or sensational.  I would say that Flynn caught about how important sex is to most adults, and didn’t censor it out of the story.  If you’re going to write a lot of sex, this is not the worst approach to take.  

The story shines in the vindication of industry and individual initiative.  That is probably why it did not win the Hugo when it was up for it.  People invest money to help people by letting them succeed instead of paying their way.  The capable are challenged to be more capable.  There is a great creed from the history of Harlem about each day’s opportunities that I strongly recommend.  Perhaps the largest reason that I enjoyed the story was to follow the characters who rose to their challenges and succeeded in life.  This is no Pollyanna story.  Not everyone succeeds.  People make bad choices, not everyone understands, and things go south sometimes, but as in any good fiction the dark moments make the bright victories shine.

The real fascinating story is the growth of the space industry.  This alternative future history grows in solid increments.  This is, after all, the point of the story.  I grew up memorizing space shuttle schematics in my nerdier youth, and the story genuinely appeals to me.

The book was written in 1996 and I caught hold of it almost 20 years later.  Some of it is dated.  There are some missteps, but there are cheap copies floating around.  If you want a drier, headier sci-fi as a break to the space-armada military or the Liberal Agenda Preach-a-Thon in Space (one too many reruns of Blue Pocahontas Dances With Space Gaia Wolves by James Cameron) this will be a nice touch down.

I wouldn’t make a steady diet of Flynn’s stuff, since my inner nerd is not inner.  He has escaped and runs the asylum with spastic fifteen year old agendas, but it was a nice visit and I may visit Flynn’s works again when I am between flashier books.

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