Just as an exceptionally good bowler may be over-all a mediocre athlete, so Stardance is an exceptionally good science-fiction novel. The first third, published as a novella, won scifi’s Hugo award, a reliable sign of merit. The Robinsons, two Halifax writers, have continued their tale and the seam is visible, barely—the first third has more plot than the rest.
Since the narrator writes like Raymond Chandler on acid (a fat man walks away “his retreating buttocks like wrestling zeppelins”) and the characters are two-dimensional (counting arch dialogue as one of the dimensions), one would expect the plot to carry the day, as is usual with sci-fi. Not here. The plot concerns the invention of ballet in zero gravity and the ability of these stardancers to communicate with mysterious plasmoid aliens. What do the aliens want? Where do they come from? The plot answers these questions in a predictably cosmic way. If this were a detective novel, the butler would have done it.
What makes the book exceptionally good is its serious, imaginative and convincing discussions of what it is like to live without gravity. Candles burn differently, bubbles behave oddly and grandly and human relationships are altered. The stardancers are the rare breed who do not need an artificial, visual “floor” to orient themselves when there is no gravity. Sci-fi readers are used to wading through third-rate literature to get at first-rate ideas. If you are a fan, this one is worth rolling up your trouser cuffs for.
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