Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beyond the Veil of Stars

by Robert Reed

Imaginative scenario, good worldbuilding and engaging characters, but for some reason this story never came together for me. I felt entertained but not particularly invested in anything that happened, and the unfolding of the plot felt predictable at points where it seemed like it should have been sudden and exciting. Ultimately I can't put my finger on any single element that's inadequate, and the work as a whole was certainly well written, but it falls short of greatness by a fair margin, and I wasn't nearly as engaged as a lot of his work. The main SF device here is change to the general planetary environment, in this case through a change in the age of the surrounding universe and a sudden capability for accessing other planets and species. The impact of the shift is nicely conveyed, but a consideration of how the wider culture alters from the switch in apparently objective markers of time. In a similar pattern the process of alien investigation is unique and vivid, involving a mechanism by which humans take on the literal bodies of aliens as part of the investigation.
Where it falls down in the main character work. The protagonist’s father was an avid UFO devotee pre-Change, and seeing his views vindicated and then undermined by something big actually happening should be an engaging story of the rise and fall of family fortunes, mediated through the intense view of the main character. For whatever reason it comes across as overly melodramatic and the protagonist as too flat and emotionally predictable, the consequence of too many little twists in the family arc and not enough positioning of truly being invited into the head of our viewpoint character. I felt a similar sense of interest as he did with the alien exploration and interplanetary intrigue that he gets drawn into, and many of the details of the setting rang true, but the actuall process of conflict within the family never really clicked. Reed often reminds me of Robert Charles Wilson, but here it was a particularly strong resemblance; the sky suddenly changing as setup reminded me a lot of Splin, while the study of the aliens was very reminiscent of Blind Lake. Of course this work predates both these novels.

Worse than: Down the Bright Way by Robert Reed
Better than: Axis by Robert Charles Wilson

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