Genre: Science Fiction
Book Review by David Hart
Have you read this book?
I’d better start by making clear what I’m reviewing: this is Stardance the book, not the novella. The latter was written first, and won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1977/8. Two novella-length sections were added to make up the book, which was first published in 1979. Two sequels then followed, Starseed and Starmind. Incidentally, you will know that Spider Robinson is a writer, but perhaps not that his wife Jeanne is a dancer/choreographer.
There are two main themes to the story. The second is the solar system being visited by odd aliens, who look like a group of fireflies dancing in space. By the end of the book we find out why. The first theme follows the fortunes of two frustrated dancers. Charlie can’t dance any more because his hip is shot–by an armed burglar. Shara can dance very well indeed, but is too tall and well-endowed to fit into a modern dance company. After years of failing to attract an audience, Shara realises that she would be perfectly suited to dancing in zero gravity, and fortunately there is a convenient orbiting space factory in which she can do so, with Charlie manning the video-cameras. But (for the purposes of the story) there’s a limit to the time anyone can spend in zero-g without becoming so acclimatized that their body can no longer cope with gravity. Just as Shara is reaching that limit, along come the aliens.
That in outline is the plot; and it is very much an outline, which doesn’t at all convey the power of the story. In the original novella part, everything is perfect: the writing is perfect, of course, it always is with Robinson; the plot is perfectly formed–plausible, compact, with a well-timed mix of triumph and disaster; but most of all the characters are believable, lovable, alive. It’s a measure of how good this section is that I enjoyed it even though it is almost entirely about modern dance, and I am the dance-equivalent of tone-deaf (dance-blind?).
Inevitably what comes next is less good. That is the main drawback to the book: its flawed structure. It’s good to have a deeply satisfying ending, but a third of the way through the story is a less-than-ideal location! Still, the second section isn’t at all bad in absolute terms, only in comparison. A couple more characters are introduced and the idea of zero-g dance is expanded; but it still feels like a bridge between parts one and three. The tempo picks up again for last section, which deals with the aliens and their motives. And the book finishes with–yes, another deeply-satisfying ending.
This book isn’t perfect. Its structure is faulty, the middle-section sags a bit, and the villains are rather one-dimensional. But these blemishes are massively outweighed by its virtues: the characters, the plot, the writing; even Robinson’s inevitable puns are this time selected for quality rather than quantity. AND you get two endings for the price of one. Robinson is one of very few authors in my automatic-buy list. This book is one of the reasons why.