In the far future, humans discover a derelict starship the size of
Jupiter, out on the galactic rim, They claim salvage rights, get some
of the great ship's machinery running, and defend their claim against
late-arriving aliens. The ship is very old, perhaps as old as the
universe.... and big. Really big.
The new owners put the Great Ship into service as -- the galaxy's
grandest cruise-liner! All lifeforms and sentients are welcome -- if
they can afford the fare. By the time of our story, 50,000 years later,
there are some 200 billion passengers and crew aboard, a fifth of the
way through a leisurely circumnavigation of the Milky Way....
Then, a Mars-size "planet" is discovered, somehow suspended at the
very core of the Great Ship! A team of the Ship's best and brightest
officers are sent to explore the mysterious "Marrow" -- and are
stranded there by a wild energy-storm. Complications ensue, and
things, it turns out, are not as they seem....
Humans of this age are heavily gengineered, long-lived, tough and
very hard to kill. Indeed, the Master Captain, and many of her
officers, have served onboard since the Ship's commissioning. So
their perspective on long-term projects, and risk, is considerably
different than yours and mine.
This may sound like a Doc Smith adventure-story, and it shares his,
umm, non-rigorous treatment of basic science (but is much better-
written). Marrow works best as mind-candy science-fantasy -- the
grand sweep of events kept my suspension of disbelief intact until I
started thinking things over for this review. I usually find dumb,
sloppy science irritating [see note 1, with minor *SPOILERS*], and
Marrow suffers from this in retrospect, but I still liked the book. I
liked the the silly audacity of imagining a cruise-ship with 200 billion
passengers, on a quarter-million year voyage! I liked the peeling away
of layers of mystery from the Great Ship, only to find a new mystery,
then another. I liked the ambiguous ending, in contrast to the tidy,
often bathetic endings common to grand SF epics.
But -- you should be aware that Marrow is not to everyone's taste.
The plot isn't coherent. The science is, well, not. And the book
doesn't have a tidy wrap-up. One Amazon reader describes Marrow
as "the dumbest and most aggravating book I've ever read."
Another wrote: "I'm glad I bought it, because I had a long cross
country flight and it helped me sleep." P>And the great ship, with the mass of 20 Earths, is propelled by (fusion-
powered?) rocket engines -- a truly enormous mass to push around,
especially since most of it is dead weight. There seems no real reason
to build such a massive ship, except that Reed thought this would be a
Neat Idea.... as did Doc Smith.
And -- if the Great Ship really is the size of Jupiter, and masses 20
earths (Reed is somewhat vague about this), it would have to be
made of aerogel, as Jupiter masses 318 Earths....
review copyright 2000 Peter D. Tillman