Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Firestar is Michael Flynn's third (and a third) and most ambitious work to date. His first novel, In the Country of the Blind was a wonderful debut novel which showed a lot of promise. He followed that with The Nanotech Chronicles a novel pasted together from several stories which had originally appeared in Analog. Next came his 1/3rd novel, Fallen Angels, written with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. While a good collaboration gains from the authors' strengths, Fallen Angels was mostly an extended in-joke. Firestar, in many ways, is really Flynn's first novel since In the Country of the Blind.
I mentioned that In the Country of the Blind showed an author with a lot of promise. In some ways, Firestar lives up to that promise. It is an hard SF novel dealing with the privatization of, among other things, space and education. Not only are the situations realistic, but the characters, of which there are many, are realistic and emotional. Astronaut Ned Dubois could have come out of Thomas Wolfe's The Right Stuff, and I hope most people have had at least one teacher like Barry Fast.
The novel is driven by the dreams of Mariesa van Huyten, called by one of the characters "The Rich Lady." Van Huyten is one of the wealthiest industrialists in the United States, having inherited her vast wealth from her grandfather. Always interested in space, when van Huyten was eighteen she saw a huge fireball enter the atmosphere and vowed to protect the earth from a direct collision.
Van Huyten's vast fortune is used to finance a private space program in the face of opposition from the US government, environmentalists and other industrialists. Nevertheless, she manages, in general, to succeed. Part of her project is to raise better educated citizens, which forms a major subplot in the book.
I've intimated, however, that the novel doesn't fully succeed. The plot, unfortunately, is extremely slow moving, even if it tends to be realistic. This novel is driven more by the characters than by what is happening. Fortunately, Flynn's characters are well drawn and, mostly, likeable. Even the characters who seem like they should be unlikable have their redeeming qualities.
Firestar's other failure is its ending. Flynn has no closure on many of the plotlines he has been writing about, and in some cases the ending of the plot is so sudden it is awkward. He also makes the end of the novel parallel the beginning of the novel in a way which goes completely against everything we've learned about the protagonist.
In the acknowledgements, Flynn thanks SF authors G. Harry Stine, Geoffrey A. Landis and Harry Turtledove. He thanks each again during the course of the novel by writing Landis and Stine into scenes and making a brief reference to Turtledove. Although he may never make it in real life, Geoffrey Landis has now been to Mir.
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