Twenty years after the discovery of artificial wormholes launches Earth space exploration to unforeseeable heights, Starplex Director Keith Lansing investigates a mysterious vessel that soon threatens the station with intergalactic war.
The book's weaknesses include
1. a weak protagonist
2. too many "Star Trek"-like devices (tractor beams, force fields)
3. uneven treatment of the human-Walhal (the pig creatures) dynamics.
Unlike many of the (harsh) negative critics below, I found the book quite enjoyable, even if there is some hand-waving here and there. It's not like that hasn't been done before in SF. And just to set the matter straight, Sawyer does NOT imply that laser beams are visible (he clearly states that the computer animated the laser fire in a holographic display) and he does not say that a spaceship swerves to avoid direct laser fire; what he does say is that a spaceship maneuvers to avoid another, spinning spaceship which happens to be firing a laser.
The book is enjoyable science fiction. The key word in this phrase is fiction.
To begin, Sawyer is an excellent writer. Plotting, dialogue, and human drama aspects are all well-represented here. He also never loses sight of using humor, awe (in its truest sense), human limitations, and philosophical twists to create realities that are at once far, far away, yet understandable.
I'm sure Robert J. Sawyer has his critics - every writer does. Bottom line here, though, is that Sawyer has created his own voice with which to tell great stories (science fiction and otherwise), and Starplex is one of his best.
In Sawyer's "Starplex," a human and alien crew set out to explore the wormholes, finds that something is coming through the wormhole back to meet them. The age of discovery may be over, and it may be war.
As always, Sawyer's characters are the strength of this work. Kieth Lansing comes alive on the page, and internal struggles against bigotry and other human failings are sharp enough to draw blood. The alien races are very well developed, especially the "Ibs," (Integrated beings, of which individuals are made up of various living organisms that bond symbiotically).
What I could have done without, however, was the Dolphins. Over-cute and just a little out of place in this novel, we find that Dolphins have always been intelligent, and it just took us a while to clue in. It's somewhat clunky.
The plot itself is well thought out and puts the notion of an Alien "Culture Clash" to new heights. The scientific mysteries of the story also set a high simmer, and the outcomes of the various interwoven plots (another strength of Sawyer) are all very satisfying.
Though the inclusion of the dolphins made me wince, I'd still reccommend this one with no real regrets. It's enjoyable, the characters are solid, and the plot is formidable. Canada's king of SF does it again.
What's interesting is that if you read Starplex and then read "FlashForward" by Sawyer, you can see where he plagiarizes himself. Both novels feature a balding, middle-aged Canadian who will potentially receive the magic potion for immortality and live out the rest of time in some kind of mechanical body. I didn't like that element in either book, it seems completely rediculous for one novel, let alone two.
Overall, Starplex is not a bad book, but it's not great either. And if you need a cure for insomnia, just read the first first chapters and you'll drift right off into dreamland.