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Robert Reed
Tor Books, 352 pages

Robert Reed
Robert Reed was born, raised and currently is the only SWFA member living in Nebraska. He was the gold-prize winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest in 1986 for his story "Mudpuppies" (under the pen-name Robert Touzalin). His first two novels, The Leeshore and The Hormone Jungle, appeared in 1987. These were followed by Black Milk (1990), Down the Bright Way (1991), The Remarkables (1992), Beyond the Veil of Stars (1994), An Exaltation of Larks (1995), and Beneath the Gated Sky (1997). He is also a writer of a great deal of short fiction, including the recent "Marrow," one of Locus's selections for the top 10 stories of 1997. His short fiction has twice been nominated for the Hugo Award. He has had numerous short stories published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and other major magazines. Reed has also been working for several years on a science fiction thriller which he likens to "Jurassic Park meets Dances With Wolves."

ISFDB Bibliography
Locus Interview
SF Site Review: The Dragons of Springplace
SF Site Review: An Exaltation of Larks
Review: Marrow
Usenet Discussion: Marrow

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

In the far future, humans discover a derelict starship the size of Jupiter, out on the galactic rim. They claim salvage rights, get some of the Great Ship's machinery running, and defend their claim against late-arriving aliens. The ship is very old, perhaps as old as the universe... and big. Really big.

The new owners put the Great Ship into service as -- the galaxy's grandest cruise-liner! All life forms and sentients are welcome -- if they can afford the fare. By the time of our story, 50,000 years later, there are some 200 billion passengers and crew aboard, a fifth of the way through a leisurely circumnavigation of the Milky Way.

Then, a Mars-sized "planet" is discovered, somehow suspended at the very core of the Great Ship! A team of the Ship's best and brightest officers are sent to explore the mysterious "Marrow" -- and are stranded there by a wild energy-storm. Complications ensue and things, it turns out, are not as they seem.

Humans of this age are heavily gene-engineered, long-lived, tough and very hard to kill. Indeed, the Master Captain, and many of her officers, have served onboard since the Ship's commissioning. So their perspective on long-term projects, and risk, is considerably different from yours and mine.

This may read like an E.E. "Doc" Smith adventure story, and it shares his, umm... non-rigorous treatment of basic science (but is much better-written). Marrow works best as mind-candy science-fantasy -- the grand sweep of events kept my suspension of disbelief intact until I started thinking things over for this review. I usually find dumb, sloppy science irritating (1 with minor SPOILERS), and Marrow suffers from this in retrospect -- but I still liked the book. I liked the silly audacity of imagining a cruise-ship with 200 billion passengers, on a quarter-million year voyage! I liked the peeling away of layers of mystery from the Great Ship, only to find a new mystery, then another. I liked the ambiguous ending, in contrast to the tidy, often bathetic endings common to grand SF epics.

But you should be aware that Marrow is not to everyone's taste. The plot isn't coherent. The science is, well, not. And the book doesn't have a tidy wrap-up.

1 minor SPOILERS ahead

For example, the mysterious Builders removed all radioactive elements from the Great Ship's enormous mass, to avoid the complications of radiogenic heating. But then we learn that Marrow, at the very core of this planet-sized ship, is largely molten iron -- which would defeat the Builders' painstaking radioactive cleansing. For that matter, disposing of waste heat from the normal operation of a planet-sized spaceship would be a formidable engineering challenge, which Reed ignores, and which would dwarf the heat that would have been generated by radioactive decay.

And the great ship, with the mass of 20 Earths, is propelled by (fusion-powered?) rocket engines -- a truly enormous mass to push around, especially since most of it is dead weight. Nor does Reed deal with the high gravity his planet-ship would have -- there seems no real reason to build such a massive ship, except that Reed thought this would be a Neat Idea.

Copyright © 2001 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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