Saturday, October 25, 2008

Slow Train To Arcturus-- Eric Flint and Dave Freer (Science Fiction)

Slow Train To Arcturus-- Eric Flint and Dave Freer (Science Fiction)

Slow Train To Arcturus by Eric Flint and Dave Freer is a novel of a generation ship.

Earth Sysgov decides they no longer want various malcontents and the best way to get them to go away is to build a generation ship and send them on their way. Each utopian group is sealed into its own habitat ball. The ship is accelerated on its way on a permanent journey to the stars. The ship looks like a string of attached balls.

The alien Miran spot the ship and they send explorers. What ensues is a comedy of social mores and errors. The best and worst characteristics of humanity are commented on. The Miran are portrayed as a relatively rational group of bipedal aliens. They start as males and slowly change into sessile females as they age.

As expected, the first thing that happens when the aliens visit the ship is that the humans in one of the habitats attempt to kill them. The habitat they first enter is full of violent extremists. Several of the aliens die, but one of them escapes.

The story of the book is told from an alien named Kretz who is struggling to survive. He makes a journey through the ship and encounters various human groups, biblical luddites, a tribe from the amazon, extreme sports enthusiasts who have learned how to fly, a matriarchal society where men are genetically engineered to be smaller and weaker than women, and a utopian workers paradise with a "great leader" that is having population problems.

Kretz acquires various human helpers on his journey get back to his ship. I don't want to give away too much about the story so I will just say they are misfits which don't quite fit in their respective societies. The story has an ending that is different than expected.

The story is hard science fiction. Dave Freer is a biologist, and Eric Flint is a historian. This makes for an interesting style of writing. I really liked Dave Freer's earlier series, Rats, Bats, and Vats and The Rats, Bats, and the Ugly. It was fun to read. Slow Train to Arcturus has a quirky kind of humor to it. The ship is falling to pieces in many places and the humans because they are isolated in their own little utopias don't quite know how to fix things. Because Kretz and the people who travel with him combine different kinds of knowledge, they can outsmart the people in each habitat.

There is some fighting, but nothing gratuitously violent. The characters use their brains. I liked the story. It makes for an excellent adventure yarn. It is also a new take on the generation ship story.

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