Wednesday 7 November 2018

Review: The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt

The Wrong Stars is a lightweight, fun space opera novel in the tradition of Firefly and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Our heroes this time around are freelance security operatives / salvagers operating a small ship around Neptune. They stumble upon an ancient "Goldilocks ship" - a ship sent out with a frozen crew five hundred years ago during mankind's desparate attempts to find a future on planets other than the one they'd mismanaged into ruin. One crew member is still inside, and, waking up, yells a warning about aliens and first contact, before fainting again. As mankind has been in contact with aliens for about 300 years by that point, the crew are not unduly alarmed - until they notice strange data in the ship's computer, and a history that cannot be true... or can it?

The Wrong Stars starts out briskly and keeps up a good pace. Unlike Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, there is actually a plot moving the story forward, and not just a sightseeing expedition around the galaxy by a bunch of cheerful space truckers. This makes it a more brisk read. However, just like Long Way, the novel is seemingly written with a wish list of 'representation' topics in mind. So we get gay characters, bi characters, trans characters, asexual characters, people who have pronoun preferences, people into drug filled religious sex orgies, people into casual sex... the only thing that does not exist in the novel is heterosexual characters or people in a monogamous relationship. Amusingly, the novel goes so far out of its way trying to be non-traditional that it tries to define people who are sexually attracted to those they fall in love with as "demisexual". The key idea appears to be that there is no "normal" when it comes to sex and gender, and that there is a spectrum and infinite variety, and that therefore there should be an infinite variety of labels none of which can be allowed to imply that they are just "normal", etc. etc. etc.

The Wrong Stars is not the work of a subtle writer. It wears its thematic heart on its sleeve, as you might guess from the last paragraph. The text also handles romance with all the subtlety of E.L. James or Stephanie Meyer.

As for the cast, the characters are wisecracking smartasses who have some external differences, but are all more or less the same underneath: slightly witty, friendly smartasses. In fact, the group dynamic is so consistent that on one or two occasions, other characters who are met for the first time instantly join in the bantering, with zero transition period or getting-to-know-each-other. However, it's a bit baffling that a novel so fluffy in those matters is also quite happy to treat deadly force and violence as something that has no real consequences. At times, there are deadly conflicts that had all the depth of kids yelling "pow pow" at each other while playing cowboys & injuns.

But a novel needn't be all subtle, abstract, character-analytical, philosophical book-club-discussion-material to be fun. It's shallow, but The Wrong Stars succeeds at being fun. Hammy romance, identikit character and uber-keen representation messaging aside, it's a story of grand space adventures, filled with mystery, evil aliens, likeable aliens, dangerous missions, world-saving drama, and a complete and total lack of boredom. The Stainless Steel Rat for 21st century readers. Worth a look if you like that sort of thing.

Rating: 3.5/5

1 comment:

Nicky said...

Demisexuality is not actually invented by this novel, it's an existing identity used by real people. You've got the definition wrong: it's usually defined as "sexually attracted ONLY once a strong romantic feeling is already present", which is not at all the same as your amused version. Like asexual people, people who identify as demisexual can have a pretty rough time of it figuring out that they're not broken for being different, which is probably why it's acquired a label and people who identify that way.

It sounds entirely at home in a book like this, and it must be lovely for people who identify as demi to read.