selfavowedgeek (selfavowedgeek) wrote,

Jay Lake's Death of a Starship: A Rambling Not-Review

Before we get into this Selfavowedgeek Rambling Not-Review (tm) of Jay Lake's novella, Death of a Starship, let me be frank: I am a huge fan.  He's one of those authors--by "those authors" I mean (1) I found him via blurbs and suggestions on fora and whatnot and found my way to Lakeshore back before I found LiveJournal.  I read some of his reprinted flash fiction pieces he'd CC-ed over yonder.  Around that same time, he had a story drop at Clarkesworld: "The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and into the Black." Yes, I specifically linked it because it's a damned good story; it had me at "Hello."  Then I managed to make it to Mainspring and Escapement, though I have yet to read Pinion.  I've read Green and look forward to Endurance and Kalimpura

What has essentially drawn me to Jay's writing is his transparency of process as I tend to learn a great deal about the craft by reading his writerly updates and such.  Then there's the work itself, which tends to be the best set of lessons-proper.  I get bored easily--that whole variety being the spice of life thing--so I burn out on writers or series if'n I'm not careful.  But I haven't with Jay Lake, and now I think I've figured it out.

He doesn't box himself in.  If you follow his blog, homeskillet is a man who loves life.  He's passionate about [insert apropos issue, person, etc. here].  He puts his work out there--his life, too.  There are four specfic writers I don't go too many days and fail to check their blogs; he's just a wealth of information, and he's willing to *share*.  Period.   

Remeber, folks, this is a Rambling Not-Review, so I can take my time (I'm getting there). 

So, I'd been reading with interest these snippets of his Sunspin WIP and gleefully learned that, hey, there's a novella out there.  Not set in the same 'verse per se, but part of Jay's thinking ahead, the laying of the groundwork, so to speak, for a space opera trilogy.  That's what had gotten me, right there.  A space opera.  Variety, kids.  Variety.

Anyhow, the actual thing I was doing here (plus, minor spoilage):

Death of a Starship is a first-contact story set in a 'verse where the Church has taken it upon itself to have a bureau that searches for xenics, aliens.  Long story short, the Xenic Question drives them as much as their faith, and you can see the questions emerging from *that* tension a parsec away (GET IT?!?!).  I like the novella as it gives me the sense of the pop of reading a short story--some urgency--but without a sense of lockstep with, say, point of view.  RE: POV--Lake handles a far-flung let's-go-find-us-some-aliens plot with a revolving door of POV's: Albrecht, Menard, and Golliwog.  Albrecht is a down-on-his-luck Everyman stuck on Halfsummer until he happens upon a key which gets him in a small ship.  This small ship, Jenny's Little Pearl is actually pretty frakkin' big boat and part of a *missing* really daggum big ship.  Well, Albrecht just wants to leave the planet he's stuck own and get to the missing ship so he can start a new life, be the master of his own vessel, BUT gets caught up in the wheels-within-wheels of an insurance scam and alien-huntin'.  The big ship's been riding out its time in Claimville, see, and Father Menard has to see what's up with that all the while Albrecht wants to get back on his spacefaring feet with a spaceship he can claim himself if he can just, maybe, get up a crew. 

But, look out!  Golliwog, a bione or made-lifeform, is part of a plot to keep tabs on and potentially stop Menard.  Why?  Because the Powers That Be are jerks who don't really want xenics found.  At least, not now.  The bits of politcal and social interplay are pretty good backdrops for what really turns into a character study in three parts.  Lake handles Golliwog's situation in a tropish manner--a made-thing/person wondering if he's a sin against Creation itself although he's been created to serve the Church to kill xenics just in case--pretty well.  In fact, Golliwog strikes me as the most human of the characters.  He's not just a heavy, and he's much more cerebral than his minders/handlers give him credit for in the story.

For lovers of hard science fiction, there's plenty of talk of probability curves and zero-G fisticuffs and nanotech and such.  Not saying my eyes glazed over reading the hard sf neepery, but, then again, I chose to read most of the novella right before bedtime. 

Also, any writer who drops allusions to Macbeth and John Donne, I'm there.  Plus, I tend to learn a few new words when I read Lake's stuff.  New word of awesome: chrism.  How that bypassed my radar is beyond me, but it's there now.  Thanks, Jay.

Now for a few quote-worthy, erm, quotes (non-spoilage, no-context, just nice):

* "' . . . We won't be a true spacefacing species 'til our masters are born, live, and die in space.  That's what the xenics are waiting for.'"

* "Who was human in God's eyes?"

* "'You're in a library.  Use it. . . .'"

Oh, and just for fun, if you read Death of a Starship, don't forget about the newt.  Or the angel.

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