- Book One of Far Stars and Future Times
- Published by Orbit in 1983
- Space Opera
- 182 pages
A down on his luck freighter captain. A telepath with a traumatic history. A soldier programmed to kill. This is the crew of the Wild Goose. But their next cargo could also be their last . . .
I have to say, it is a real shame that books of this length have fallen out of favour. Thanks to the bleed-over from epic fantasy, it feels like modern science fiction is only getting longer. A modern book is upwards of five hundred pages, and series go on forever. It wasn’t always this way however. There was a time when a novel could comfortably sit around the two hundred page mark. I’ve spoken about all this before, of course, but The Shattered Stars reminded me of just how wonderful shorter books can be.
This is one of the many books I picked up on a recent trip to Hay-on-Wye. Now, when I walk into a used bookshop, my brain basically stops working. My first priority is, of course, to find books that fill gaps in my existing library. Book seven in a series, for example. Or that book that was published before the author became famous and was never reprinted. But I also like choosing books more randomly than that. At such a low price point, it’s worth taking a risk or two. There are few joys greater than picking a book that I know nothing about and devouring it. I’ve found a lot of great authors that way. I’m happy to say that Richard S. McEnroe has joined that list. The Shattered Stars isn’t just better than I’d expected. It’s really, really good.
What you get with The Shattered Stars is a classic formula. A crew of ragtag misfits, each with their own troubles, take to the stars in a scruffy little spaceship and end up getting into scrapes. Firefly did it. Dark Matter did it better. Mike Brooks, Gareth L. Powell, James S.A. Corey, and Adrian Tchaikovsky have all written extensively about those scrappy spacers and their ships. If you’re looking for something that breaks free from the tropes, you won’t find it here. What makes The Shattered Stars interesting, at least to me, is that it was released in 1983. That’s forty years ago, but it feels like it could slip in quietly alongside all those other authors and not feel out of place. Because it has those familiar tropes, and because it doesn’t rely heavily on the science of the day, there’s a certain timeless quality to it.
This is a book filled with seedy spaceport bars, crumbling spaceships, and whispers of exotic worlds. The narrative is tight and lean, but there’s a world pushing in at the corners that is ripe for further exploration. There’s a lot mentioned that we don’t actually see, which is a great way for building a world when you know there are more books in the series. had this been a standalone, I’d have been a little peeved by the scarcity of locations, but McEnroe pulls it off. There’ll always be another book. Plus, it was a nice change to have the book take place almost entirely in a port or on the ship itself. It really gets at how claustrophobic space travel would likely be.
This is a series I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for, and an author I truly hope to read again soon. Not bad for a blind purchase. Not bad at all.
Deeper Dive: Why Am I Averse to Space Telepaths?
This book was nearly a five star read. It was so close. Unfortunately, it had a telepath in it. Now, that in itself is not the reason it docked a star. While I am not a telepathy fan, I’m not that petty. No, the reason it lost that final star was because of the weirdly sexual depiction of telepathy. I get that sharing thoughts with someone would be intimate, but it seems like everything to do with telepathy eventually comes back to sex. The telepath in question refuses to be around humans because she can sense them wanting to have sex with her. Another telepath sexually assaults her via telepathy. It was a weird fixation that tore a hole in an otherwise excellent book.
But why is it, I hear no one ask, that I am so averse to telepathy. After all, they come from those same John Campbell roots as all the SF I adore. Foundation had telepaths as a major component. They’re in all the things I love. It’s just that I prefer not to have magical powers in my science fiction. I want a neater line between sci fi and fantasy. Nothing personal, it’s just personal preference.
All this did get me thinking, however. Clearly, there must be ways for me to enjoy telepathy, if I enjoy all these stories which feature it. Maybe the problem is not telepathy in and of itself. Maybe the issue is that I’m waiting for a way to include psychic powers that doesn’t feel obtrusive. Telepathy is so baked into the DNA of space opera that there is no avoiding it. You just have to enjoy the good examples when you find it. If you find it.
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