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The Dark Beyond the Stars
Frank M. Robinson
Tor Orb Books, $14.95 US
Reprint trade paperback, 408 pages
Publication date: January 1998

A review by Leon Olszewski

Imagine that you wake up in a hospital bed. All you can remember is the last mission, the one that put you into that bed. You don't know who you are, or what else has happened before that last planetary landing. You don't remember the people around you -- either their names or what they mean to you. And you need to discover what mission the ship is on.

The facts are easy to determine. Your name is Sparrow. You are a seventeen-year-old tech assistant. People are named after birds, or characters in the Bible, or from plays. The ship is the Astron, an interstellar ship, and it is on a mission to discover life in the universe. It has been going for two thousand years. Now the crew is faced with a decision, should it cross a huge expanse of space known as the Dark? It is a rift of empty space that will take a hundred generations to cross. The Captain is the same Captain that started the voyage, 2000 years before, because he had received a longevity treatment which has kept him young.

Yet somehow the facts aren't quite what they seem. While the ship had appeared to be clean and immaculate, you discover that the appearance is due to projections. In reality the ship shows its age. It is dingy and many things don't work anymore. Hundreds of planets have been explored, but none have shown signs of life. The few possible sightings seem to be the work of overactive imaginations. Finally, your name is Sparrow, but you used to be someone else...

Slowly, a more complete picture comes into focus. For some of the crew, the Captain is a tyrant, only interested in carrying on the mission, with no regard for the cost to the crew and ship. For others, the Captain is still the Captain, to be followed, although whether from devotion or from the benefits he bestows it is hard to determine.

Sparrow, too, was given the longevity treatment. His purpose is less straightforward than the Captain's. He provides an example of how humans once were on Earth. Being on the ship for a hundred generations, the crew is no longer the same as when it left Earth. The crew is less violent, and more cooperative than those left behind.

Another discovery reveals that there is a mutiny on board, and that Sparrow is being recruited by both sides. The mutineers have grown tired, and want to return home. They have done their duty, and have no wish to continue across the Dark. In fact, they feel the ship and crew would not survive the trip. Too many of the vital functions of the ship have been cannibalized in order to have reached as far as they have. Still, the Captain is driven. He controls the ship, the firearms, and the computer.

The Dark Beyond the Stars is a fascinating book. It brings together an interesting plot with unusual characters on an extraordinary set. Yet, what makes this book succeed is the interactions of the characters. They love, they fight with words and fists, and they have sex. They find out that sex and love are not the same. Sparrow explores what it is to be a part of a group, as well as an outsider. Through him, Frank M. Robinson works out what it means to be human, both with our frailties and our nobilities.

Copyright © 1998 by Leon Olszewski

Leon Olszewski has read science fiction and fantasy for most of his life. He works at Spyglass, Inc. as their Manager of Network Services.

The Dark Beyond the Stars
Frank M. Robinson
Frank M. Robinson's earlier novels include The Power (1956), The Glass Inferno (1974) and Blowout! (1987), the latter two with Thomas N. Scortia.

ISFDB Bibliography
Interstellar Travel
On the (Un)likelihood of Interstellar Travel
Lambda Awards - Past SF/Mystery

Past Feature Reviews

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