By: Robert L. Forward
Type: Hard Science Fiction
Setting: A neutron star near the end of the constellation Draco
This book is a sequel to Dragon’s Egg, a wonderful speculation about life on a neutron star. In this installment, human scientists face the challenge of trying to help and rescue the civilization of Cheela on the surface of the neutron star in the aftermath of a gigantic starquake. The trick is that the Cheela, due to their small size and nucleonic nature, live roughly a million times faster than the humans do. The entire novel spans twenty-four of the human crew’s hours, so Forward spends much of his time describing the goings on with the Cheela. Many of their generations pass in the day that the humans spend on the ship.
Although theoretically and scientifically as brilliant as his previous novel, Starquake lacks some of the good writing and wit present in Dragon’s Egg. Occasionally, the reader catches a pun relating to Earth television shows and history, but for the most part the parallels are too close. In one case, a barbarian Cheela adopts the name Attila and proceeds to dominate the known surface of the star. The Cheela obviously got the idea to use Earth names from the logs of Earth history that they had received from the humans, but Forward shouldn’t have needed to resort to those tactics for characterization. His writing is good enough to allow the Cheela characters their own names. Some of the borrowed names are obviously used for humor (like the Cheela named Otis-Elevator), but these uses are not necessary. They did not happen this much in Dragon’s Egg, and that story was quite gripping. Forward’s readers are not stupid; if they can sit through his detailed explanations of plant and animal life on the star, they can draw their own parallels between the Dark Ages of Earth and the Dark Ages on Egg.
This is a good, mostly solid novel that should delight the remaining fans of hard science fiction. I’m not entirely convinced that it needed to be written, however. Dragon’s Egg stood well on its own; I suspect that publishers had a lot to say about the existence of the sequel.