I learned today that Dr. Robert L. Forward passed on over the weekend. I have read a few of Dr. Forward’s books, and enjoyed Dragon’s Egg very much as a young man. I wrote a brief review of Starquake for this website years ago, and in reading it over, I wish I had said more positive things about the novel. It is a good novel, but my review is nit-picky, and concentrates primarily on a disdain for some of the name choices rather than on the true strengths and weaknesses of the novel. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned a bit about critiquing since then, but I would have to go back and re-read the novel to give it a fair critique
I still stand by my assertion in the review that Dragon’s Egg is a better book, and that I’m not sure Starquake really needed to be written. The premise was covered nicely in the first book, and the Starquake story seemed, to me, to be superfluous.
All that aside, I will miss the gravitational waves generated by Dr. Forward in the realm of hard science fiction. My story “Half-Lives of Quiet Desperation” is inspired partially by the ideas Dr. Forward presented in Dragon’s Egg, and though I don’t have the science background that he did, I know the importance of research in making a hard science fiction story ring true. I hope I can attain some level of his skill in presenting my own hard SF work.
At lunch today, I wrote part of my review of Word Work, by Bruce Holland Rogers on my handheld computer. At home I transferred and finished the review and was polishing it up when I decided to check my e-mail. Outlook locked up (Outlock? Hmmm …) and my computer displayed the dreaded BSOD. (I’m gathering more and more reasons to leave Windows 98 behind and move to Windows 2000 Professional.) I had not saved the review, and I had already erased it from my handheld and synchronized after copying it to the desktop computer. “Crap” is the appropriate term here, but, being an aspiring writer, I chose a stronger word when I realized what had happened.
I will rewrite the review tomorrow.
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.