on July 31, 2006
This is a story written in the first person and written from the perspective of Bartolomeo, a man who is a misfit amongst the inhabitants of The Argonos, a massive spaceship that is trawling the galaxy in search of new life. Generations of humans have been raised on the ship and very few have ever had the opportunity to step on solid ground. Bartolomeo is a loner, brought up by various members of the 'upper levels', never knowing his parents and suffering from various physical disabilities. His only friend is the Captain of the ship. So far, no evidence of extra terrestrial life has been found until the Argonos stumbles on a seemingly deserted alien craft drifting in space. Bartolomeo is chosen to lead an exploration team to investigate this strange ship in spite of opposition from the sinister Bishop, leader of the Church on the Argonos.
Richard Paul Russo has written an excellent tale, fast paced enough to keep the interest going but in depth enough to give a satisfying read. His alien craft is truly alien, unlike so many sci-fi stories that have the universe populated with humanoid life. The feeling of menace on the deserted craft is almost palpable. The one small criticism that could be levelled at this book is that the characterisation is not terribly strong, but, with such a strong storyline, this can be forgiven. All in all, a very good book, well worth a look.
on March 11, 2004
If Ship of Fools had more of a conclusion, it would have been at the top of my list. However, Russo seems to have grown tired toward the end, and the pure energy that fills the first 805 of the book is lost.
Still, Ship of Fools is full of excitement and discovery. Despite being set in a cliche (the "colony of people who live on a ship and have never set foot on a planet" cliche), Russo manages to pull of a highly original series of events. All of them surround the discovery of a mysterious vessel, which keeps a singular focus within the story. However, the events themselves range from death to inner conflict to paranoia to sympathy. Ultimately, it is a tale of exploration that is approached from many levels, grounded in the most obvious exploration -- that of the ship.
If only it had an end, it would be a 5-star book. When I finished reading it, I immediately went online to order the sequel... I just assumed there was one, and was devastated when I learned otherwise.
I would still recommend this highly to those looking for an interesting story about discovery and exploration, and anyone who enjoys reading because it makes you think. For those who look to sci-fi for space battles and combat and three-breasted she-beasts... well, while there is a cloud of danger and some action, this probably is not what you're looking for.
on September 21, 2003
I think what a lot of the reviewers are missing is the fact that Richard Paul Russo can WRITE! I was drawn from chapter to chapter in a way I haven't been in years--the book had the feel similar to that in Rendevous with Rama. I don't read much science fiction anymore--there is so little sense of wonder in it. Ship of Fools has wonder aplenty, and the characterization is excellent. Nor did I find the dialogue clumsy, as one reviewer did. I was most impressed with Russo's balanced viewpoint between Christianity and disbelief. A sympathetic priest in a SF novel? Quite refreshing.
The scene with Father Veronica (you know the one I mean) is breathtaking. And yes, I felt the ending was not quite as dramatic as I would have liked. But I really enjoyed the ride. I would indeed read the sequel, but I rather hope there isn't one.
I also hope that those who read these reviews and decide to buy the book buy a new version rather than a used one. The writer receives no royalties on used books, and cannot continue to be published unless someone buys new copies.
on August 27, 2003
I just finished reading this book. I like it for the fact that it reminds me of a X file episode. Where it always leaves you hanging wanting more. . It was a lot like reading a fast manuscript for a movie idea. So many things seemed like they could have been more fully explained or given more depth. Doesn't mean it wasn't a fun read however. <don't read past it will ruin the book>. On the other hand there were a number of things wrong with the story if it was minimally examined. The old women was a sore point for me. Pg 199 with him speaking Spanish, so lame. Then the question of the old women/alien speaking of the planet name given by the bishop. Why would aliens with superior intellect and technology make such a careless statement. Why are the aliens dumb enough to leave doors unlocked that have tons of rotting dead people yet smart enough to control gravity etc. Why are the alien blaster weapons so weak and fire only at the last two ships. Why do some of the people go crazy. Why did the bishop try to kill him, and in such a strange way. What did the machine the bishop had at the start have too do with anything. What became of reading the records the church had. Why is jumping in a worm hole at the end going to save anyone, don't the aliens know the coordinates back to the planet. And a bunch more.
In the end I give it a 3 out of 5. Fun read but not enough.
on June 15, 2003
"Ship of Fools" is set on the Argonos, a starship housing a small society which has been shipbound for hundreds of years. The story opens on the cusp of a proletarian rebellion and a potential theocratic coup d'etat, and the narrator, one of the captain's closest advisors, finds himself caught up in political affairs. At the same time, the society's ancient history and mission is called on: a dead human planet, and then a dead alien ship, are discovered, and the inhabitants of the Argonos must piece together the mysteries they offer.
The issues explored by "Ship of Fools" are many and varied: religious belief and its place in politics, class struggles, the nature and strength of friendship, the existence and religious framework of evil (and whether it can conquer the truly unwilling), and the ultimate power and legitimacy of self-sacrifice. Yet somehow, even while considering all this, the plot is gripping and fast-paced, the narration is enjoyable, and the book is impossible to put down.
The major drawback of "Ship of Fools" is that it tries to do more than is ultimately possible. Many of the issues the novel raises - physical disability and deformity, unrequited romantic love - are ignored entirely. Most of the issues that are discussed are not resolved; in fact, even the action of the story is only partially settled.
Lack of closure is not always a fatal error, however, especially in a book with so many satisfying narrative and thematic elements. Perhaps the author intends to complete the story in a sequel; if so, it will surely be worthwhile reading. Even if "Ship of Fools" is the complete story of the Argonos and its inhabitants, it is compelling and thought-provoking reading worthy of any science-fiction fan.
on June 13, 2003
Be forewarned, as many of the other reviews have stated, much of the story, particularily the ending, is not clear cut. If you are the type who needs to know exactly what happened, to know every detail of how the main characters fare, this might not be the novel for you.
I found the concept, and the story to be fascinating. Russo paints a broad portrait of what is occuring by focusing on one major character, Bartolomeo. It is not giving away to much to say that the book is a narrative from that character. The author does not step away this character, and fill in other events that are unknown to him. If Bartholomew is not aware of an event, or aware of a reason for something, then the reader isnt either. This is why not every detail of what is occuring is known to us, simply because Bartolomeo isnt aware of them. The aliens are a mystery throughout the book, why is this? It's because Bartolomeo doesnt know. Why do certain events occur? If he doesnt know then we dont know.
If you are the type of reader who likes a good mystery, who can fill in spots using your imagination, who doesnt need everything spelled out for you, who doesnt always need everything to conform to whats normally done, then i highly recommend the book. If you like spelled out endings where everything is clear, dont bother, you wont like it.
on May 19, 2003
Richard Paul Russo here tackles two of science fiction's hoarier scenarios: The generation starship, and the mysterious alien ship which no one can understand. Although he writes a more engaging story than some of his predecessors (e.g., Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, and John E. Stith's Reckoning Infinity), he doesn't pull it off.
The book is most interesting in exploring how the good ship Argyros works. The political machinations and tensions among the factions, the sense of sameness - if not ennui - which pervades their society, and occasional moments of desperation and revolt.
Unfortunately he sets this against a backdrop of the aforementioned mysterious alien ship, with the twist that the ship appears related to a dead colony on a nearby world, and is, well, far from safe to explore. As such Russo sets out to paint yet another picture of aliens so alien and mysterious that we can't understand them. Such stories are never satisfying, because when the aliens' (or perhaps their ship's) behavior is the centerpiece of the book, we need to eventually be told SOMETHING about them. Why are they behaving as they are? Why are they sitting in the middle of space, silent? Why are the rooms constructed the way they are? It's not that we need all the answers hand-delivered, but we need to be given something, and we're not. We can't even draw our own conclusions because there's nothing there to draw from. Worse, one is left with the strong impression that Russo himself doesn't even have an idea as to what it's all about.
The story ends up being - sort of - about how humans react to such an encounter, but the alien ship is so generic it's not even up to the level of, say, 2001, and the ending seems all-too-predicable, ultimately. The religious and spiritual overtones are not without interest, but they're at best the third-most-interesting element of the book and cannot carry it.
I suspect that I'll barely remember the details of this book a year from now, although I enjoyed it for most of the ride. Chalk it up as another novel which could have been much better than it is, if it had had a firmer direction.
on December 9, 2002
Like other readers I was both awed and disappointed by this masterful story. The saga expands in an almost poetical vein with pointed characterization and succinct plots within plots. The ideas discussed in this book - origins, family, meaning of life, aliens, religion, discovery - require a sequeal and perhaps a prequel.
High praise for the sparse, direct, superb writing and crafting.
Kudos for interesting characters and for a new presentation of several well-used themes. Man's first encounter with ETs has been told again and again, yet this indirect approach is one of the best. The horrific race remains thoroughly "alien" to the end - their thoughts, morals, purposes and society a mystery, undecipherable. More positives: The elusive, alluring female priest, the shadowy bishop, the manner in which the dark, cloistered mood is created.
Points needing expanding or revising: The origin of the "Ship",
The prominence of the Church - for logical not philosophical reasons. If anything, the role of the Church in the far future will be less that it is not now. The inscrutability of the aliens - why did they commit these horrific acts, to what purpose? Why did they remain hidden? Finally, what happens to the group on Antioch.
Still, if you are not looking for "this is Agon from the planet Zedur; stop your atomic testing or face destruction" fiction but instead want a heady, taut experience, this is the one for you.
on November 1, 2002
These are the voyages of the starship Argonos, its 5-year mission to.....whoops, what is our mission? Where are going? Where did we come from? This is pretty much the setup for this Philip K. Dick award winning novel by Richard Russo. The Argonos is a starship that has been in space so long that all memory of its mission has been forgotten. Was it meant as an exploration vessel? A ship to make contact with alien life? Or was it a liferaft from a doomed Earth? Nobody knows. So they simply wander the universe with no purpose. I guess that would make them intergalactic existententialists?
The ship is divided into distinct and competing social classes with the military, educated and the religious orders at the top while the workers grind away down below. In fact the captain of the ship is losing his grip over his command to the plotting of Bishop Saldano. The main character of the novel is Bartolomeo Aguilera, the boyhood friend and most trusted advisor of the captain. A signal from an unknown planet brings the
Argonos to a deserted world. Well, it's not quite deserted, in a sealed section of a settlement they find thousands of human skeletons impaled on hooks. They show evidence of torture and horrible deaths. Soon after, another signal is received which will lure them to an alien spacecraft and even greater mystery.
This novel had so much potential, but it was squandered. Russo never capitalizes on the suspense or horror of the first discovery. Most of the book concerns uneventful exploration, similar to Arthur C. Clarke's novel Rendezvous with Rama. It's not very engaging. If I wanted to read about exploration I would buy a memoir of a spelunker, not a science fiction novel. This aspect of the book was just plain boring. The human interaction between the characters was great, especially between Aguilera and the captain, and also a tragic love story between Aguilera and a woman priest.
Another negative about the book was the lack of any resolution or explanation of questions which pile up in the book. It's like Russo leaves us hanging at the end just to prove how mysterious the universe really is. There's also a subliminal Christian message underlying the whole novel. Maybe the problem with this book was that it was underground religious fiction.
on October 16, 2002
Richard Paul Russo's latest work, Ship of Fools, is as much a philosophical exploration-or simply a mood piece-as it is a tale of fiction. As always, Russo breathes a gritty authenticity into the people, places, and social system of Ship of Fools. Unfortunately, the book fails to fall neatly into any conventional science fiction niche. Not heroic enough for space opera, not intense enough for horror, not comprehensive enough as a dystopian treatise, and not revealing enough as a tale of alien contact, the book is stylish and thought-provoking but raises more questions than it attempts to answer and sets up more potential story lines than it bothers to pursue. Fans expecting something like Russo's Carlucci books, or relying too much on the back-cover synopsis or reviewers' quotes, are likely to end up disappointed. Readers who enjoy observing how a master writer creates and manipulates the fabric of a story, or exploring their own beliefs and tenets through the thoughts of others, will find the book rich indeed.
The human generation ship Argonos has been in space for hundreds of years. Its original purpose is murky. Its aging mechanical systems are gradually falling apart. Its tightly closed social system consists of a working class which performs the labor necessary to keep machines and society functioning, and a ruling class which peripherally includes ship's crew and clergy. Tensions are running high between classes and among the various ruling class factions.
Argonos picks up a radio signal from a nearby planet. At this point, the ship really needs a habitable world in order to re-provision if nothing else. An exploration party finds the planet habitable but no longer inhabited. A cache of grisly human remains among a cluster of strange buildings hints at an alien menace, but no records can be found to explain what has happened.
When the transmitter that drew Argonos to the planet begins sending out a different signal, the ship's leaders decide to follow up. This takes Argonos to another vast starship, clearly alien and apparently derelict. Teams are sent to systematically investigate the vessel, thus leading to the story's climax.
Russo's main themes are evil, particularly the evil outside versus the evil within; nobility, duty, or whatever else provides the motivation for people to rise above self-interest and serve a greater cause; and how a closed society breeds lifestyle abnormalities along with genetic abnormalities. Russo's characters directly or indirectly question God, the status quo, the value of individual lives, and man's place in the universe in general, with varying degrees of resolution before the tale's end. Ship of Fools provides no big, emotionally satisfying payoff, but offers an absorbing read nevertheless.