Friday, February 09, 2007
New Review: The Voyage of Night Shining White
Russell Letson has reviewed The Voyage of Night Shining White for the February 2007 issue of Locus Magazine, and had this to say:
Chris Roberson's novella The Voyage of Night Shining White is a curious combination: an alternate-world hard-SF space exploration story in which the first expedition to the Fire Star (Mars) is mounted by a world-dominating Chinese empire. Against a backdrop of implied but undeveloped exoticism we get a charmingly old-fashioned tale of the pressures of command and the dangers of space travel.Letson goes on to summarize the plot for a bit, and then concludes:
Much of the story's charm resides in its adaptation of ancient and familiar SF tropes into alternate-world-Chinese terms. The literal terms, of course, defamiliarize the familiar: the Ministry of Celestial Excursion; Fire Star; "Bridge of Heaven" for the orbital elevator; and, in Minister Bao's pre-launch invocation, the praise for the "guardian spirits of the reactor" ("the lord of fission, the strongman who cleaves the isotope in two, the spirit soldiers who drive the free neutrons in their courses"). Some of the details of Chinese spacefaring are not just translations of pulp conventions, as suggested by Navigator Liu's abacus; or the cargo of the com¬panion vessel Jade Maiden ("stalls full of shitting, grunting beasts - goats, cattle, and pigs"); or the crew's meals of fish-head soup. And 1 have to say that the Dragon Throne's technology and systems design seem to be less robust than one would expect of a civilization able to build a space elevator and establish a moon colony, but examination of those details would give away the nature and outcome of the crisis that provides the final test of Zhang's leadership and the qualities of his crew. And finally it was those characters that charmed me the most: uncertain, wistful Zheng; perceptive, sympathetic Xiang; solid, sensible Hong; even stiff and conventional Bao. There are heroes here, but no villains, and that's more than charming.