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le 28 septembre 2001
Robert J. Sawyer's book "Starplex" was one of the most entertaining, thought-provoking, and mind-twisting books I've read in a long time.
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.
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le 14 mai 2002
Sawyer's foray into space opera and space adventure is a fun book to read, but lacks the depth of (human) characterization and philosophical thought that are the strengths of his later works. The book's strengths include
1. the Ib Race -- a brilliant construct
2. the dark matter entities
3. the enigmatic glass man
4. the tightly woven plot threads
5. an interesting twist on the gateway concept
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.
le 10 février 2015
This was truly an incredible book. Starplex was a rare exploration of the Space Opera sub-genre, and as Robert J. Sawyer intended, did not focus on a military plot as the central theme, but rather, a peaceful group of scientists who's mission was to make peaceful contact with other races via a vast network of 'shortcuts' or stargate type devices. Yes, there is certainly space combat and battles, but what makes this book so different is the anchoring in real science fiction roots -- at it's core it's about science, and the extrapolation and exploration of 'what-if' scenarios. It seeks to tease apart answers to current scientific knowledge.
To say this book was riveting was an understatement. I read it in 24 hours, and wished there was a whole series like it. But alas, this book is, and must be, fully self-contained. Starplex plucks the most melodious strings of science fiction, and turns them into a symphony for the mind.
The various races described in the novel were also fascinating, each with distinct cultures and idiosyncrasies. Sawyer is a man with an incredible imagination.
Almost 20 years after publication this book remains singular and utterly engaging.
le 14 juillet 2001
Upon reaching the stars, mankind discovered wormholes. Artificially generated, these tunnels allowed transport from one part of space to areas light-years away. Their creators are unknown.
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.
le 11 mars 2001
Most of Starplex is a very dull read, packed with dense physics discussions that become tedious for the science-impaired. The book picks up in the last 100 pages, but it was never an edge-of-your-seat read, and I never really cared about any of the characters. The entire thing was like an episode of Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5, only with more scientific mumbo-jumbo. What was the most farfetched moment of the book is when a little shuttle thing launched from Starplex takes out a huge battle cruiser with a geological laser that miraculous hits some fuel storage tank and POOF! goes the bad guy ship.
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.
le 25 février 1999
First of all, I would like to remind some of the other reviewers that the point of the book is to be a STORY and NOT a scientifically documentation of the future. If you think its a problem that some scientific details are wrong, then perhaps you can name a book where every detail is perfect. If you can do so, then I will agree with what you say. The book was interesting and was accurate enough for me. The next thing you comlain about is how the character only things about adultery and his best friends death. Obviously you don't know what it's like to lose someone, otherwise you would realize that it's a hard thing to get over, and for the adultery bit, well, if you were contemplating cheating on your wife, then I assure you that you to would spen a great deal of time thinking about. So what you to be UNrealistic, is actually what the main character WOULD be thinking. Another complaint is that the plot is a copy of Star Trek. Maybe your right, but this was ten times better than Star Trek, because I hate Star Trek and I love this book. You complain about the Waldahudin, and how they are designed, but do you really think an alien race will be thought provoking and in-depth just because they're aliens? No, it's bull and you know it. Aliens don't follow a schematic, they are the author's creation, and he/she can do whatever he/she wants with them. This was an excellent book, maybe even my favourite of all time, and if Mr. Sawyer ever reads this review, I hope he realizes that SOME people actually appreciate good writing, unlike some morons I can think of.
le 30 octobre 1998
I read this book because it was a Hugo nominee. I concluded the author (I certainly can't call him a writer!) must have had a lot of friends who voted for him. It reads like a juvenile parody of a bad science fiction novel by the sort of literary critic who despises science fiction without reading any.
The plot is a poor attempt to duplicate "Star Trek," with a pretension to greater scientific knowledge and psychological complexity.
The scientific pretension is evident in the long, complicated digressions Mr. Sawyer makes to explain the physics of the novel. It is *ALMOST* enough to make you think that he cares, at least, about good science, even though he shows no concern for anything else. But that's an illusion, rapidly dispelled by the way Mr. Sawyer cheerfully ignores real science when it gets in the way. As the previous review noted, spaceships rarely "swerve" in space fast enough to avoid on oncoming laser "bolt." And the convenient time-travelling that is thrown in to help the protaganist out of his difficulties towards the end of the book have to be read to be believed.
Mr. Sawyer attempts to show psychological complexity by providing the internal thoughts of his central figure. Unfortunately, his central figure doesn't seem capable of thought, greatly undermining this effort. He meanders through the book, considering adultery--AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE. It's as if, having given the figure (I don't say character) the single subject to think of, Mr. Sawyer couldn't devise anything else for him to consider. He wanders around considering adultery and firing photon torpedos, or considering adultery and firing phasers, or considering adultery and solving quantum field theory equations, and just generally boring the hell out of those of us along for the ride.
The rest of the figurines in the book are even less substantial.
This book is not good, it is not fun, and it is not necessary. Please do not read it, as we do not want to encourage its author to strike again.
le 26 septembre 1998
(From Nova Express V4N4) I'll be blunt: Robert J. Sawyer's Starplex is a remarkably bad science fiction novel. It has serious deficiencies in style, tone, plotting, characterization, logic, and extrapolative rigor. Though not unremittingly awful, Starplex has such huge and obvious flaws that publication in its current form calls into question the editing competency at both Ace Books and Analog (where it was serialized). That it garnered both Hugo and Nebula nominations is no credit to the science fiction community. Gardner Dozois once said that when many people asked for more "hard science fiction" in Asimov's, what they actually meant was "stories as close to Star Trek as possible." Anyone with such a prejudice may well enjoy Starplex. Though not as elegant a design as the Enterprise, the bridge scenes in Starplex bear a strong resemblance to TV's most famous SF show. There is even an illustration of where everybody sits on said bridge (though neither it, nor the diagram of the ship, are necessary). The characterization is barely adequate for Campbellian science fiction, much less work in the 1990s. It's been said that many an aspiring writer takes the injunction to "write what you know" entirely too seriously, resulting in numerous bad novels about English professors contemplating adultery. Having a starship captain (excuse me, "director") contemplating adultery is hardly an improvement. Indeed, apart from contemplating adultery (which others have informed me is something of a theme in Sawyer's other books), the only other character trait Lansing betrays beyond the standard issue "competent yet compassionate" template (though he acts far more like the assistant dean of the English department at a small midwestern college than someone who should be running a starship) is a veiled dislike for Waldahudins, left over from his best friend getting waxed during a first contact gone wrong. This latter trait seems to exist so that you can see he's overcome it by novel's end in a scene where high-level Earth government personnel act like bloodthirsty morons so we can all see our hero's moral superiority. It's about as subtle as the writer jumping up and yelling "Look! He's grown!" The Waldahudins are neither convincing nor interesting as a race, and they seem to exist mainly to provide the novel's heavies. The Ibs are more believably delineated, and Sawyer has put a good deal more thought and innovation into their construction than the Waldahudins. Despite living 640 years, Ibs find wasting time abhorrent, and in the book's most powerful scene, Boxcar, the most sympathetic of the Ibs, "discorporates" as punishment for the crime of wasting others' time it committed long ago. Though not on par with science fiction's most memorable aliens, say Octavia Butler's Oankali or Vernor Vinge's Tines, Sawyer's Ibs are a good, solid, professional effort. Likewise, the scenes where Starplex makes contact with the darmats (using mathematics) are effectively handled, even if the communication technique is at least as old as Stanley G. Weinbaum's classic "A Martian Odyssey" from 1934. Even if they owe a nod to Star Trek, the action scenes, both during the green sun's appearance and during the attack, are well handled and reasonably gripping (though the winning battle tactic is stolen outright from David Brin's Startide Rising). Sawyer has obvious skill at handling the interactions of characters in tense situations. However, the book's scientific nadir probably comes during those same scenes, when one of Starplex's dolphin-piloted craft fires a laser, and the enemy ship "swerved to avoid contact with the beam." Neat trick, that, swerving to avoid something moving at the speed of light. (And, for that matter, just how does a ship "swerve" in space? And just how would you be able to see a laser beam in vacuum?) Unfortunately, Starplex suffers from huge lapses of logic and common sense all throughout the novel, with people doing things in impossibly short periods of time. For example, after it gets fried by the new sun's radiation, the entire lower half of the ship (all 34 floors of it) is detached and a replacement put on in a mere 18 hours. (I wish I could have gotten my transmission fixed that quickly.) Let's see, they need to remove the old sections (quite a task in and of itself) without damaging the interlocks linking it to the rest of the ship; repair any damage to the remaining portions; pressurize and leak check the new section; mate it with the ship; make sure all the interlocks are working; ensure all internal and external airlocks and bulkhead are sealed tight (especially since a single leak could result in death for the crew-a more likely schedule is for the safety checks themselves to take at least a day and probably more); hookup, troubleshoot, and configure the electronics and electrical systems, not to mention a dozen other things that would have to be done in order to ready and flightcheck a starship that's undergone a major overhaul. And all this in zero gee. Even with the full benefits of industrious Ibs working around the clock, and without the foreknowledge of how tedious and difficult it has been to do far simpler zero-gee repairs on Mir, a few moments of thought brings the inevitable conclusion that replacing half of a starship in 18 hours is not just unlikely, but downright absurd. An equally absurd condensation of time occurs at the beginning of the battle, when Lansing orders his crew to find anything remotely resembling a weapon and have them mounted on the outside of their probeships in a grand total of fifteen minutes. Now, think this through. They're going to: a.) remove a laser from its current mounting bracket; b.) adjust its focal length and power output to work in a way it was never designed for; c.) take it down to the probeship bay; d.) mount it to the outside of the ship; e.) string power hookups from the ship's system to the newly mounted lasers; and f.) hook up communications (wireless, since only a complete idiot would start drilling holes in a vacuum-sealed spacecraft hull), complete with a targeting system, between the probeship control system and the laser. And remember, this is for not just one, but five ships. In fifteen minutes. One gets the impression that Mr. Sawyer has never had to swap out a hard drive or change an oil filter. The tragedy is, these particular lapses could have been corrected with good editing, or even a few CYA paragraphs to paper over some of the more gaping plot and logic holes. However, no amount of editing is able to save Starplex from one of its central absurdities. The entire Waldahudin war plotline stems from their worry over Earth's economic superiority because Waldahudins don't believe in mass manufacturing. Why? Because they "never build two things the same" because doing so would be "an affront to the God of Artisans." The problem is, a race with such a belief would never develop an industrial society, much less a starfaring civilization. The problem is, such a race could never make (nor program) computer chips, since they are ALL prdicated on the notion of doing the same thing the exact same way. But the absurdity dosn't end there. A few of the other things it is prohibitively expensive or impossible to manufacture one at a time include light bulbs, metal cans, hypodermic needles, staples, ball bearings(!), and even screws and nails. Hell, in Waldahudin society, even candle molds would be anathema. Yet we're to believe they've achieved starflight. The are other dramatic flaws in logic, extrapolation, and construction. The prose is flat at best and at worst is quite clumsy. Nanotechnology is mentioned, then immediately dropped without any explanation (or evidence) of its effect on society. The helmsman is a redheaded Norseman named Thor (not exactly a page out of The Subtle Art of Characterization). Except for some of the prominent used scenery of interstellar SF, almost no new scientific or social developments seem to have come down the pike since our time, allowing the central characters of this one ship to solve nearly all the outstanding problems of astrophysics (including the location of dark matter, the spiral shape of galaxies, and-as an added bonus-the origin and fate of the universe). Indeed, the subtitle could be "How I won an intergalactic war, discovered a new alien race, solved the greatest scientific mysteries of my day, and got to be a billion-year-old immortal without cheating on my wife." Despite all the forgoing, Starplex is not unrelievedly bad. Sawyer clearly has the desire and instinct for engaging the big "sense of wonder" issues at the heart of science fiction. However, the novel displays a distressing lack of basic technical competence, especially for a work so celebrated. It is very possible that Sawyer's subsequent novels (he's published at least two since this came out) are better, and even Starplex, in the hands of a good editor, could have been hammered into acceptable shape. However, in its current form, it should never have been published.
le 19 février 1998
Starplex tries very hard to give a sense of wonder by introducing lots of wonderful new (and some old) ideas. Everything is here- a universe spanning instantaneous travel network, immortality, myterious superpowerful aliens, interstellar war, dark matter, Jupiter sized intelligent beings, etc, etc, etc...
There's only one problem- it gives far too many new ideas, so many that huge plot arcs are handled in five pages and then discarded like so much used kleenex. The war is a classic example- the causes are mentioned in about two paragraphs with no lead up, the Starplex comes under attack, a Deus ex Machina ends the attack, and the Starplex is flung bazillions of light years away through a totally new method of traversing the wormholes. The Starplex returns to human space after about two pages, gets fixed, the war ends, some pablum about "everyone should live together" is spoken and the war ends. The rest of the topics are treated in much the same manner- great ideas, but no real follow through on what they might mean, or even how they affect the rest of the novel.
The characters are mere cardboard props to try and push the story along. Sadly, we end up feeling no real emotional connection to any of them, even to the tragic story of the Ib.
I give the novel a 4 simply because some of the ideas are neat, and they were fun to contemplate. The rest of the book just doesn't work. If this wins a Nebula or Hugo I'll be disappointed- there's far, far better written SF out there.
le 19 mai 1997
I read "Starplex" as a serialization in Analog Magazine, and I must say that I was not as impressed by the novel as many others seem to be.
True, there are many mind-bending ideas in this book. It makes every effort to create that "sense of wonder" that so many critics have sought in vain in contemporary science fiction. It is in the process of providing that "sense of wonder" that "Starplex" falls short.
To put it briefly, I was unable to achieve the necessary suspension of belief required to enjoy any novel. The main reason for this was Sawyer's unfortunate habit of pulling rabbits out of hats.
The most obvious example of this that comes to mind is a scene where the research star vessel "Starplex" is under military attack. Suddenly, in the middle of a battle, the director (analogous to the captain) of the space laboratory orders that unarmed shuttles be retrofitted with laser drilling gear and sent out as fighters. Incredibly, the crew of "Starplex" manages to accomplish this feat, and the improvised battle craft actually defeat fully armed alien battle cruisers!
The fact that this novel was nominated for a Hugo Award depresses me. If it wins, I will be disgusted.