Starbound by Joe Haldeman

Starbound left me conflicted, I have had to have a few days to think it over before writing a review. After the human race’s near extinction from an exploding martian the earth authorities decide to send an expedition after the mysterious Other’s starship that left the solar system heading for what might be the Others home world.

Carmen Dula and her husband have spent six years travelling to a distant solar system that is home to the enigmatic, powerful race known as “The Others,” in the hopes of finding enough common purpose between their species to forge a delicate truce.

By the time Carmen and her party return, fifty years have been consumed by relativity-and the Earthlings have not been idle, building a massive flotilla of warships to defend Earth against The Others. But The Others have more power than any could imagine-and they will brook no insolence from the upstart human race. From the Product Description.

This book continues the story from Marsbound and will continue in Earthbound. Carmen, also called the Mars girl is one of the protagonists of this story. She was the first one to meet a Martian, now she is going on a possible suicide mission to the stars together with her husband Paul, another mars bound couple, two martians and a married husband-wife-husband military-spy-specialist triplet from earth.

The story is mainly told as the crew members log entries, blog posts if you like. It works pretty well, in some chapters it takes a while until you have identified the voice. I enjoyed that you get different points of view on events and personalities. Even the martians blog.

The martians are portrayed with an underhanded humor that underline their amusement and bafflement with their human crew mates. The martian is also interesting because they where constructed by the Others thousand of years ago to be their tools of communication with the humans. I enjoyed the martians very much.

When the human crew are not fornicating with each other or contemplating fornication they struggle with high tension. Is it a suicide mission? Are there hidden agendas? Are there spys among us? Will we be able to make peace with the Others? What will happen if we fail? etc. Characterization felt a bit sketchy to be honest, and that I feel is an important weakness with this book as so much rides on the interpersonal interactions of a little group on a starship heading into danger.

 The world is also interesting but a bit dark. The terrorist attack on Israel that wiped out almost everyone there in a single day is an important part of the back story. Earth is again, like in so many of today’s stories, an ecological disaster as well as ruled by oppressive states. As one of the crew said it is “one big happy police-state family”. The Israel twist where inventive.

Relativity and time dilation plays a major part of this story as well as in Forever War. The technology of the Others live up to “An advanced enough technology would be indistinguishable from magic “. They also have serious trust issues, which is explained in an interesting and convincing way in the book. The prospect of Homo Sapiens is slim if we choose conflict, so what will we do?

Not a bad book, nor an excellent, it is somewhere in between for me. It took a little long time before the action started and when it did it was over in no time. I would recommend it if you like mysterious aliens and Defying Gravity-esque personal interaction.

I haven’t read Marsbound, and it it is supposed to be a better read than this one, maybe it suffers from middle-book-itis.

See also:

  • Grand Master Joe Haldeman talks to