A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, October 25, 2013

Retroview: The Wreck of "The River of Stars" -- Dritte Teil

THE REMAINDER OF THE FIRST CHAPTER, now on the Excerpts page, introduces several characters, one by one:
  • Fransziska Wong, MD, the ship's doctor
  • Ramakrishnan Bhatterjee, chief engineer
  • Mikoyan Hidei, engineer's mate
  • 'abd al-Aziz Corrigan, the second officer, soon to be acting first
  • Timothy "Moth" Ratline, cargo master
  • Nkieruke Okoye, first wrangler
  • Ivar Akhaturian, least wrangler
  • Eugenie Satterwaithe, third officer and sailing master
  • The Lotus Jewel, sysop
The POV dips into the heads of or close-focuses on the bold-faced characters. 

There being a total of sixteen characters, introducing them at intervals was the best way to avoid overloading the reader.  In addition, Gorgas and others make repeat appearances for purpose of reinforcement.  The chapter remains the captain because each character comes on stage in relationship to the captain and his death.  In addition, each scene is a little bit further along the arc:
  • Dr. Wong certifies his death -- and reflects on her own inadequacies
At times, when she contemplated the images of beauty broadcast from Earth or Mars, this [her body] disturbed her.
  • Corrigan notifies engineering -- but it is only by-the-way so they can scratch themselves off the death watch
  • Okoye realizes they are missing the funeral -- and Ratline waves it off.  
  • Satterwaithe shows up at the funeral -- but displays no emotions
  • The Lotus Jewel realizes that the funeral is almost over -- and Corrigan is completely wrong about who will attend it.
In this manner, the captain's funeral arc is completed while each point on the arc is about something else, advancing a characterization or introducing additional plot points.  In the next chapter, the reader learns why the doctor missed the funeral. 

A number of character points are brought out:
  • Dr. Wong is a disillusioned romantic with a poor self-image.  As the story progresses we will learn that this has roots in her childhood.  
  • Bhatterjee is a lecher and has designs on his young mate.  And how young is that?
  • Corrigan likes things orderly and more to the point to appear orderly; but he makes an exception for The Lotus Jewel.
  • Ratline nurses "some long-buried wound festering beneath his skin, waiting to burst like a pustule and poison them all."  The reader can guess at its nature, and at this point will be somewhat wrong.  
  • The Lotus Jewel lives for others, so much so that she may forget to live for herself.  
  • Gorgas is either obsessing over trivia or the ship's AI really is making mistakes. 
Each of these foibles may grow into a fault as the crisis builds.  Dr. Wong's submissiveness may lead her to inaction; Bhatterjee's lusts may cloud his judgment; Corrigan's desire for Ordnung may inhibit his actions; Ratline's retreats into solitary confinement may take him off-loop at a crucial time; The Lotus Jewel's eagerness to please may lead her to choose the pleasant over the necessary; and Gorgan may obsess over trivia at the expense of acting on the vital.

Two new plot points are added:
  • The communications unit is down, too; though The Lotus Jewel doesn't see how there could be a connection.  
  • The engine malf is probably a hardware problem requiring outside work, and Bhatterjee is both afraid and enticed by the Void into which his predecessor had fallen.  (See the movie GRAVITY, now in theaters.)
Bhatterji did not respond immediately, for the Void frightened him beyond measure.  There was ionizing radiation from solar flares and, if not that, the endless cold or the endless vacuum or, quite simply, the endlessness itself.*  

(*) This tripling is used periodically in the narrative for emphasis.  Compare:
[...] recycled
air and recycled water and, after a time, recycled thoughts. 
As was the case with Titanic, no one realizes quite yet how serious the damage is.  No one is yet showing more than irritation and impatience over the delay. 

There are a number of wry comments and puns by the narrator:
  • Little by little over the years, she had given up the search for far exotic places, though she never did quite give up the hope that they existed. 

  • “I suppose,” she said [...], “that the ship will not be run in so ‘Evan Hand-ed’ a fashion now.” 

  • The engineer could not help but think that, in dying, Captain Hand had made a grave mistake.  

  • The others had urged her forward, less from a great love for the late captain Hand, than from a great loathing for hard work.   

  • He hoped that his comment did not sound critical of the cargo master (in case the berth held him in reverence) nor too sympathetic (in case the berth despised him). 

  • Now the old stairwell was sealed off and only a narrow gangway led below to the maintenance tunnels and the external midship airlock through which Hand, vaporized, would shortly make his sublimed exit. 

  • Gorgas was too pompous, Grubb too virginal, Ratline too old, the wranglers too young, and Bhatterji too whatever Bhatterji was, so The Lotus Jewel had few options.

  • A snake was a snake.  Not that there was anything wrong with that.
These contribute to the "Voice" of the omniscient narrator.  A number of observations are based on reversals [e.g., love/loathing] or paradoxes.  So the narrator comes across as detached, playful, and sardonic.  

There is likely not enough information yet to characterize the Myers/Briggs type of any of the above-named folks.  What I may do in the future is look for passages throughout the book, but I would rather not if I can help it for a variety of reasons, including that some here may not have yet read the tale.  It is not the sort of story that depends of a surprise reveal, but like all novels it is built on the back of a series of encounters and events presented in a particular order for best effect.


  1. Clerihews will turn up when they won't spoil.

  2. If the architect wants our tour to avoid peeking into the next room, perhaps we can pause to admire a bit of joinery his modesty doesn't allow him to point out? Not all of it, of course.

    The tight POV (correct term?) in the scene with Bhatterji and Miko really works well to suggest what we see isn't necessarily the seduction Bhatterji thinks, but quite possibly sexual harassment. Not just lustful, but abusing a position of authority & hence a bigger jerk than we've seen Gorgas to be. Miko's blush doesn't have to mean what our POV interprets it to mean & that ambivalence stands up well on rereading.

    1. Unreliable Narrator, thy name is River of Stars.

  3. FWIW, I loved "TWOTROS" -from its elegant title to its bittersweet story. Thanks.


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