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on March 21, 2004
In this novel of the "Second Starfaring Age", Norman Spinrad has us on the starship Dragon Zephyr, a ship that instantaneously jumps from point to point in it's travels between star systems, covering several light years with each jump. The pilot of the ship (always a female) is an integral part of the jump circuit, and she enters a seemingly subjective state of ecstasy during these jumps. Captain Genro Kane Gupta becomes infatuated with the pilot and this leads to a terrible conundrum. In addition, there are also many passengers on this starship, and they lead a life of luxury in a complicated cultural and erotic lifestyle. The emotional lives of the crewmen and passengers are meticulously detailed by Spinrad, this being a well done and positive aspect of the novel, lending support to a superbly structured plot.
My only criticism is that I felt that Spinrad used a convoluted sentence structure much of the time, that coupled with frequent use of arcane words really did make this novel a chore to read, at least for me. Overall though, well worth reading.
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on October 7, 2002
I have to admit that when I first started Spinrad's novel I found the tone and the use of so many foriegn words pretentious and irritating. However, a third or half way through, I was hooked; Spinrad's description of the human relationship that develops between the captain and the unique pilot, and of the tension the captain feels between his duty and his obsessive lust for the transcendent experience the pilot opens his eyes too, are compelling. Spinrad creates a strange alien setting, but uses it to describe emotions and dilemmas that are timeless and universal, with which most readers should be able to identify.
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on September 20, 2001
Well, this is a blast from the past. I was very surprised to see this listed as 'new in paperback', but then there does seem to be a swathe of classics being re-released.
Is this a classic? Not sure. It must be around 20 years old now, and certainly when first released it was regarded as prime new wave material - advetised in *Omni* no less! But of course age doesn't make it a classic.
It's certainly original: I can't think of any other tale in the genre predicated on starships propelled across space by the power of orgasm. But that doesn't mean this is a sex fantasy either. Spinrad makes the idea work, and casts the captain of his ship into a credible (at least within this premise) dilemma, and eventually a real bind ... with a very new wave lack-of-ending to boot.
The genre may have moved on from the needs to break through barriers of editorial conservatism that - in part - inspired books like this. In some ways 'The Void Captain's Tale' will seem terribly dated, and I have to say that I think other wirters have since tackled broadly similar ideas and one it better. So this re-release may be of more interest to people who are bona-fide fans of 70's sci-fi than to the general reader.
But if you want some idea of where the genre has come from, it's worth a look.
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on September 11, 2001
Dragon Zephyr Void Captain Genro Kane Gupta delivers goods and passengers to Estrella Bonita. During a stop Genro meets beautiful Dominique Alia Wu. The woman is a shocker because she is a jump pilot. Everyone knows that jump pilots are physically wasted, as they are the keys to interstellar jumps that each time kills them a little more. This makes Dominique an enigma.

Dominique asks Genro to jump blind. His failing to set the proper navigational mix will free her so that she lands in eternal ecstasy inside the Void. Fascinated by her, he leans towards neglecting his duty to his crew, passengers and himself because no one knows what will happen if a ship jumps blind.

Though at times the use of "modern vernacular" slows down the story line because the reader needs time to interpret, THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE remains a strong science fiction novel. The theme compares sexual prowess with power and the hold that sexual needs have on humans (Freud must have been a passenger on the Dragon Zephyr). The tale is different, but works on several levels because readers can feel the magnetic tension between the Void Captain and the Void Pilot. First released in the 1980s Norman Spinrad's novel still spins quite a tale...
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on February 22, 2001
In an undefinedly distant future, humankind navigates to the stars using alien "Jump" technology aboard each Void Ship, which technology must be controlled by a Pilot, who must be female and who experiences orgasmic ecstasy with each Jump. The ship's captain, ostensibly in charge, is at the mercy of the Pilot.
Our protagonist is Genro Kane Gupta, Void Captain of the Dragon Zephyr. The events of the story are kicked off when he encounters an attractive woman enroute to his ship, a woman whom to his surprise turns out to be Jump Pilot Dominique Alia Wu-surprise because Pilots tend to be wasted, emaciated creatures who live only for their next Jump. He becomes infatuated with her, haunted by the thought of the Jump ecstasy forever denied him, and neglects his duty to his passengers (which includes participating in the sexually charged social rituals used to distract them from the long voyage). And Dominique has a request for him: in his responsibility as Captain, neglect to set the navigation matrix so that the ship Jumps Blind. She believes it will free her soul to join the Void in permanent ecstasy, and of course she doesn't care what happens to the ship. Will he do it? Well, that would be telling.
One of the great aspects of science fiction is that it can put people into situations they would not encounter out of science fiction, and this is an example of that. Spinrad completes a tour-de-force with a masterful futuristic patois that is a hodgepodge of today's major languages and as such can be followed with some slight strain by the attentive reader.
A good read and a haunting story, though not for those who are easily offended by sexual situations.
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on July 25, 1999
This being the first Spinrad book I've read, I must say that his themes seem refreshingly different from most scifi-authors: The Void Captain's Tale is mainly about sexuality and its power over us human beings. The traditional, coldly rational scifi attitude is visible in the writing style: this is an objective, non-emotional account of some rude and primitive incidences. Spinrad's ideas are certainly worth considering, so what he lacks is textual appeal. As a storyteller, he doesn't show much gift.
Decide for yourselves. If you like good stories, you need not bother. If you like deep thoughts (and you're not a stranger to the scifi environment), go ahead and read this.
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