September BOTM: The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Mugwump, Sep 1, 2004.

  1. Mugwump

    Mugwump New Member

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    I must admit I haven't got round to this one yet, but good things have been said about it in print. What say thee?
     
  2. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    I loved this book. Usually I'm a die-hard hard-SF person, so character driven drama isn't my thing. But this was SO well executed? Limited cast , so every character could be fleshed out. Third-person omniscient narration, so literary techniques such as foreshadowing could be used. None of the characters were exactly as they seemed upon first meeting them. The atmospherics of the writing were superb also. It was so melancholy and beautiful.

    BTW, what was your favorite character? I really liked twentyfour and also the african girl whose name I can't remember because I don't have the book with me. But I also loved the captain, always stuck in his war simulations, and Evermore. Great, great characters.

    The ending really satisfied me, also. It really ended, you know? No sequels here.
     
  3. scooter13

    scooter13 Woof, woof!

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    Kind of can't have sequels, given the name of the book. ;)

    I agree with pretty much everything Archen said. The characterzation was what needed to carry this. And it was done wonderfully.

    Hard to say who my favorite character was (I read this last summer).
     
  4. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I also really enjoyed this book. It reminded me a lot of Peter Watts's Starfish that we read for last January or so. As i read it, I felt it took a little while to get rolling, but then after reading it everything seemed that it was necessary to the experience. It was interesting to see the different characters put into so many different situations. As I read, I saw little bits of people I knew or myself in various characters, much moreso than in other books. There was a very diverse group here.

    Another thing I found interesting was the ship becoming a character on its own. This also reminded me of the Watts' book, but then also was very interesing on its own how the ship played into the final downfall of several of the characters. One thing that I wish had happened was that as of the last person on the ship dying that he didn't then show the final scenes in the cutter. I felt that the ship should have stayed the POV as it was throughout.

    My absolute favorite thing about this book was the little sort of Easter eggs strewn throughout, that is the interesting little word twists and games that he seemed to put in there, or interesting ways of looking at situations. I can't remember many of them right offhand, but things like "They devoured the peace meal piecemeal," and such.

    I can't exactly say which of the characters was my favorite. I certain felt for Bhatterji, as he seemed to really be a decent fellow doing his job that no one on board seemed to understand or like very much because of their misunderstanding. I also really liked the acting captain. I thought one of the most interesting and strongest idea behind the book was that is was really a picture of Evan Hand (Incidentally misspelled as Even Hand the first time it appears in my US copy--which cost me $8.44 for a MMP-I am pissed about how expensive books are getting...more and more expensive for poorer quality books. I really want to support the industry, but it's getting awfully expensive. [/complaint]), who dies in the first few pages.

    Given the few things I'd read about this one, I was really surprised how long it took for someone to die. And then, even expecting it to happen sometime, I was still very surprised when it happened. I think Flynn does a great job of telling a story that one already knows the end of and making it very entertaining and compelling.

    So how are his other books?
     
  5. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    I also loved this book. It was so well written. It was a very literary and potentially verbose style - but it wasn't too wordy -- it was still tight. There was a lot of information, and narrator asides, but I still had the sense that each sentence was frugal because it was so packed with meaning.

    As I was reading this I kept thinking of another book we read a little while ago. I felt that John Crowley in Little, Big tried to use the same narrative style and it didn't work. It was flabby, and boring and overwhelmed the characters. TWROS was done right -- the characters were layered and made into vibrant people so they were able to carry the narrative without being swamped by it.

    I loved the sense of the story being set in the future, yet it was infused with such a strong sense of nostalga for 'the good old days of sail' - which of course is a metaphor for any kind of longing for a more 'rosy' past.

    I loved how the tragedy was also layered and made up of small little incidents that hinged on personal whims and minor betrayals. Even the collisions with the rocks was done in the minor key - it was not a bolt of lightening tragedy that was outside their control. It was wholly created by how they chose to react to stress, and their emergency situation. There were a good many of them on the ship, but each character was a crew of one.

    I liked that it was such a multi-facted book. It had the musing literary style, yet it was also character driven, it was also a psychological study and a look at trying to do a specific job under pressure - a dysfunctional group dynamics study. It also had elements of hard SF and then it became an adventure story at the end because you wondered who, if any, were going to survive.

    The part that broke my heart was when the Passenger got off the escape shuttle to find the doctor. He gave up his physical safety to find her and his emotional safety when he admitted that he loved her, it wasn't chemicals. He not only couldn't live without her, he thought of a way to help her save the others and so make her happy. I actually thought they were going to have a little bright spot of joy within the tragedy. Then of course she was dead, and later it looked like she had done it because of his hateful words earlier. But his changing and happiness was so close, and so was hers and for a moment it was wonderful.

    In terms of a favorite character I think I liked the young guy who got married - forget his name. I also liked the engineer, and the woman in the walls - she was really odd. I kept thinking of the portrait of Dorian Gray for some reason. She definitely gave the story a touch of horror almost like the Twilight Zone, or maybe the House of Usher.

    The ship was cool with all its probems, and nooks and crannies. I also liked the AI - Rivey who at the end lost it. How she refused to believe in the sails and wouldn't let her mother go. And I guess the Lotus Jewel, the doctor and the passenger were neat too. And add the cats, the cook, 24, and the Igbo girl. I thought they were all good except Saitherwait, Ratline, Gorgos, Corrigan, and the kid who got himself killed. Not that I thought they were badly done or anything I just didn't like them much.

    My only complaint about the characters would be that Gorgos and Corrigan were rather bland and almost interchangeable, and Ratline was mostly not there (until the end) except the few times he was harrasing the hands about moving cargo. The cook was a little under done too.

    I didn't mind the scenes on the shuttle. In some ways I would have liked to have known what happened to them, and in others it is fine not to know. Having and epilog when the ship was finally found and salvaged years and years later, would have been neat too.

    When I read this I tried to get the last drop out of every sentence, but towards the end I wanted to know what happened, and how: who died and who didn't. I wanted to speed ahead and dawdle and savor all at the same time.

    When I was reading this book I thought that so few books in the genre measure up to its writing and the quality of the reading experience. I can see at times why many outside the genre don't take it seriously. Because in terms of quality TWROS is the exception rather than the rule. I can't believe this didn't win awards big time.

    I have his In the Country of the Blind but have not read it yet, or any of his other books, but I will check his other works out.
     
  6. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Wow. I haven't read or bought it yet, but to hear the praise the few of you have heaped upon it makes me want to get in my next bookstore purchase.
     
  7. brightcrow

    brightcrow .

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    I had the same impulse, bought it :) But I'm catching up on some basics first...Ender's Game to be followed by Neuromancer.
     
  8. lemming

    lemming New Member

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    "The cook was a little underdone", Ficus? Hmm. :)

    This book is definitely on my "to read again" list. Things I loved were the wordplay and random philosophizing in the narrative (because it was done right); the slow awakening of the ship itself, which I saw coming but which I'm a sucker for as a theme; the Cat With No Name, who really deserved half a page at the End but didn't get one; Miko; and the names Eaton Grubb and The Lotus Jewel.

    The part that broke my heart was when Genie Satterwaithe goes along with Twenty-Four's delusion just to get her into the cutter. The part that broke it again was when Gorgas and Miko find themselves together at the end, which I was hoping would happen from the moment he responded with such a sense of wonder to seeing the peepery.

    Nice vocabulary use too. I was patting myself on the back sometimes (like for knowing what quondam means), but I still looked a few things up: risible, querning, encomium, parturient, erinys, and epigones. I know it's a good book when several pages are marked for dictionary look-ups later. [Oddly, I have a definite question on his use of "encomium". It appears on pages 155 and 342 of the mass market paperback, and unless Flynn is using it in a sarcastic/opposite sense in both instances, my dictionary indicates he's using it dead wrong. Could this be? :confused: ]

    I am not quite able to agree with Erfael on the resemblance to Starfish or Ficus on the resemblance to Little, Big. However, having stared at my bookshelf for a few minutes I'm not sure I can do any better. I might in some ways offer up Earth by David Brin instead... not for the tragedy, but for realistic characters developing in satisfying ways while disaster looms and something comes to self-awareness. But I'm afraid all this means is that they were both intensely good books.

    All in all, an excellent book club choice.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2005
  9. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    I went to his reading at Worldcon yesterday. I told him how much I enjoyed his book, and gushed over it. I also invited him to stop by the thread. Don't know if he will or not.

    He read a finished short work that he has yet to send off. It was good. I gave details in the Worldcon thread in the General Discussion section.

    He is working on a novel that is late he said. It is set just before the Black Plague hits in the 1300s, and it involves aliens. He said the name but I didn't get it.

    He also said that the sixteen characters are really the sixteen personality traits from the Myers-Briggs personality test.

    In terms of this book - I think the idea that it is like Starfish is interesting. I didn't have the same reading experience - Starfish was more visceral for me, and TWROS more intellectual (until the end). But I can see what you mean about the darkness that sucks you in.

    One of the things I also liked but forgot to mention was that it was a slow-motion disaster. It made it more interesting to watch. They were dead - but still walking around. Like a jumper from a plane whose parachute doesn't open, we as the reader get to watch what they do and how they prepare all the way down.
     
  10. Himself

    Himself New Member

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    Sundry Data

    "...the african girl whose name I can't remember"

    Nkieruke Okoye. The name came from a one-time co-worker, an Igbo gal whose goal was to study classical music composition in Germany. It's a strange world, and people are never quite stay inside the buckets we create.

    After I had been using the name, I learned that "Nkieruke" means "The best is yet to come," so the world sometimes gives you a bit of unexpected help.

    + + +

    Although I did research magnetic sails and how long it would take to inflate them and what their hoop stress would be (sorry, Rave) as well as Philo Farnsworth's little fusors, the actual speculative science in the book (if you can call it that) was Jungian psychoanalysis, from which the sixteen Meyers-Briggs archetypes are derived. That was hard, because the characters kept climbing out of their buckets, and I couldn't very well kick them back in, could I? But each of the sixteen archetypes is arbitrarily close to any of the other corners on the hypercube, needing only a tweak of one of the four parameters. Ram Bhatterji and The Lotus Jewel differ only on the Thinking/Feeling axis, for example.

    Anyway, here's a quiz. I found these "Meyers-Briggs Prayers" on the Web. Can you match them against the characters? I'm not sure that they are all precisely appropriate, or else the characters are not precisely to type; but what the hey. Because Koch and Hand are both dead at the beginning of the tale, they may be harder to peg; but as one poster wrote, the invisible Hand may be discerned by his effects.

    INTJ: Lord, keep me open to others' ideas, WRONG though they may be

    ISTJ: Lord, help me to relax about insignificant details beginning tomorrow at 11:41.23 am e.s.t.

    ISTP: God, help me to consider people's feelings, even if most of them ARE hypersensitive.

    ESTP: God, help me to take responsibility for my own actions, even though they're usually NOT my fault.

    ESTJ: God, help me to not try to RUN everything. But, if You need some help, just ask.

    ISFJ: Lord, help me to be more laid back and help me to do it EXACTLY right.

    ISFP: Lord, help me to stand up for my rights (if you don't mind my asking).

    ESFP: God, help me to take things more seriously, especially parties and dancing.

    ESFJ: God, give me patience, and I mean right NOW

    INFJ: Lord, help me not be a perfectionist. (did I spell that correctly?)

    INFP: God, help me to finish everything I sta

    ENFP: God, help me to keep my mind on one th-Look a bird-ing at a time.

    ENFJ: God, help me to do only what I can and trust you for the rest. Do you mind putting that in writing?

    INTP: Lord, help me be less independent, but let me do it my way.

    ENTP: Lord, help me follow established procedures today. On second thought, I'll settle for a few minutes

    ENTJ: Lord, help me slow downandnotrushthroughwatIdo

    Rivvy the AI does not count as a character, unless he/she/it counts as all characters. As Miko remarks after one exchange, "Now the AI was channeling Corrigan."

    + + +

    "...Black Forest... with aliens..."

    The title is EIFELHEIM.
     
  11. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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  12. Himself

    Himself New Member

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    Do you have any thoughts or ideas about the characters in the shuttle: did any of them survive or did they kill each other (actively or through stupidity) or just drift out of range ?

    I had sent a copy of the early chapters to Charles Sheffield and Nancy Kress. At a con shortly thereafter, Charles said to me, "You're going to kill them all, aren't you?" His reasoning: there was no way that group could ever work together effectively. But he (and Nancy) also said; "Don't kill them all. The readers will hate you." Well, there was a Roman emperor who once said, "Let them hate, as long as they fear," but I didn't think that applied.

    I do have a notion that they won their way clear, but in a peculiar sense, the POV character was Rivvy, and Rivvy doesn't know what happened to them.
     
  13. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    I tend to think of them as making it, because even though I like dark books, I want some happiness, somewhere. Good call on the part of Kress & Sheffield, though I also agree the group dynamics were not good for survival.

    Funny you should mention the 'narrator'. I was talking about the book earlier tonight at a real life fiction group I belong to, and it seemed to me at the time that with the POV you used to tell the story it almost seemed like there was a Greek Chorus type of situation going on with the nameless-faceless, probably groupless narrator. I hadn't considered Rivvy as the narrator - I will have to think about that.
     
  14. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    As long as you're here, I did have one question. Why did you choose to go with the 3rd person omniscient narration? I'm really glad you did, it added so much in terms of mood, atmospherics, etc. However, the trend in SF today is so often for multiple 3rd person limited. In fact, I'm getting pretty sick of reading multiple 3rd person limited, so that made reading "Wreck" even more refreshing and entertaining.

    Was there a particular reason you chose that voice?
     
  15. Kamakhya

    Kamakhya Seeker of Stuff

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    I finally have a quick moment to jot down some thoughts on this book.

    Like everyone else, I really loved this book. I knew I would though after reading in the Intro that is was inspired by Meyers-Briggs. I got a kick out that pychoanalysis system in the day and thought it made a fine premise for a novel. I did try and figure out which charachter was which, but made little headway with that. I will have to try and go back and see what I can come up with. I will also have to recommend the book to my family, most of whom also read SF and were mildly interested in the Meyers-Briggs test.

    I choose to believe that the escape shuttle people survived. It would be just too grim otherwise. On the other hand, I was pleased to see that there was no last minute rescue of the others. While I certainly shed a tear or two for some of those lost, I do get a bit tired of the fantastic rescue scenarios.

    I think my favorite characters were 24 DeCant and the young woman who liked to explore the closed off areas. I did wish for a little more detail on some of the characters, like Lotus Jewel. I loved the names and the language plays.

    All in all a completely engaging story. I think one of my favorite scenes was when at the last dinner, they asked Rivvy for the cause of all that had happened. I loved the chain of events and almost expected her to blow a circuit!

    I will have to reread this book again so I can savor it. The first time around, I was more interested in finding out what happened! :)
     
  16. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    As I said I had not considered this, and had to think about it. I have, and I could only come up with one explanation.

    My experience of reading the book is that Rivvy starts out as a standard AI, and at some point in the book becomes a full 'being'. Rivvy becomes aware and develops emotions, and starts to think for 'herself'. But though Rivvy has a lot of data, information, and perhaps experience (as an AI), she is really a child as a being. She has also lost her objective ability to look at situations that she is now emotionally invovled in. She also has little experience with having emotions and juggling emotion and intellect.

    The narration of the book is much too sophisticated to come from the Rivvy we see in the book.

    Even if the 'wreck' drifted for millions of years Rivvy would still be a child because she would be in isolation and would have no chance to grow in terms of using and learning to control her emotions or developing a synthesis with her intellect. She would have no chance to gain in experience by using her emotions in context with others.

    The only option I can see for Rivvy to be the narrator is if the 'wreck' was evenutally found, and salvaged. She was still physically intact, and had not gone insane from being alone and drifitng. Once found she was revamped into another use, or joined with another AI, or allowed to develop as an adult being on her own. But in some manner she continued on as a full being and developed and grew into an adult.

    The book then is her memoir of the events, with her 'old' facts and events joined with her more recent emotional insight and growth which gives it the sophistication the reader experiences.
     
  17. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    My local real world SF Book Group also read this book this month. It was my choice :D . Anyway there were a 3 who loved/really liked it, two who didn't (one didn't finish), and two in the middle - who thought it was close to evenly balanced between good points and bad.

    Interestingly those who didn't like it, said there were no sympathetic characters, nobody they cared about. Funny I did not have that reaction at all. I did have a hard time picking just one favorite character though and that made me re-evaluate my experience of the book.

    Erf, you were right on the money when you equated it to Peter Watt's Starfish. I realized (eventually) that just like in that book I was a fascinated fly-on-the-wall more interested in following the characters to see what happened to them, rather than having a character that I identified with. Other complaints were that the story was too dark, too much like a soap-opera with who was sleeping with whom, and hard to follow because it seemed to jump from viewpoint to viewpoint, sometimes within the same paragraph.

    There was one Hard SF fan (with a physics degree) who was impressed with the use of micro gravity, the means of acceleration, the difficulty of dealing with the momentum when turning, and other touches. He usually lambastes books with what he considers physics howlers. He also thought the use of the gravity wells in the tables was a neat idea (to keep the plates from floating away). But then he pointed out that while it would keep the plates anchored - the food would likely float off the top side of the plates :D
     
  18. Himself

    Himself New Member

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    Omniscient Narrator

    The proximate cause was a Worldcon panel. Maureen McHugh made some comments regarding the lack of omniscient viewpoints in SF and said it was almost a marker that distinguished genre from mainstream.

    Besides, I was the narrator, and I'm omniscient. I know everything except Greek.
     
  19. Himself

    Himself New Member

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    Rivvy the Narrator

    Actually, I never intended for Rivvy to be the narrator, so it's just as well. The notion did occur to me about 2/3rds through, but I did not write it to be that way.
     
  20. Himself

    Himself New Member

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    Sympathies

    What! They must have hearts of stone, not to weep over poor Miko or 24 DeCant, or to find no care over the poor befuddled Gorgas, or the heartbreak of Satterwaithe's dead baby. They probably meant that there were no characters that they could pretend to be. (Unlikely, as all 16 types were represented...)

    a) Dark. Duh? It's called tragedy. SF is almost unbearably upbeat, though, so they may have been unaccustomed to the lack of last minute rescues and so forth.

    b) Who was sleeping with whom. Sex is also not popular in SF. But let us put 16 people (minus two dead) into a tin can for several months at a time. Especially with i) half of them teenagers and ii) cultural mores more like the Middle Ages.

    c) ...jump from viewpoint to viewpoint... This is a complaint of SF readers who sample mainstream. I recall being confused for a time reading Gore Vidal's LINCOLN for that reason. Other folks get put off by use of present tense narration.

    Aha! But... the utensils were referred to from time to time as "stay-plates" and "stay cups" so there was undoubtedly some high tech gizmo to prevent that. The nature of the gizmo [he says, waving his hands]? So commonplace that none of the characters remarked on it. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. :)