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The Stars Asunder
Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
Tor Books, 351 pages

The Stars Asunder
Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
Debra Doyle was born in Florida and, from the University of Pennsylvania, she earned her doctorate in English literature, concentrating on Old English poetry. While in Philadelphia, she met and married her collaborator, James D. Macdonald, who was then serving in the US Navy.

James D. Macdonald was born in White Plains, New York in 1954, and raised in Bedford, New York. As an enlisted Boatswain's Mate in the Navy, and later as an officer, he saw the world. He moved on to become the Yog Sysop and ran the Science Fiction and Fantasy RoundTable on GEnie for two years (1991-93).

Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Debra Doyle
ISFDB Bibliography: James D. Macdonald

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

This is an exciting and colourful adventure story, set in a universe where high technologies such as spaceships and robots interact seamlessly with what appear to be magical powers. As such it could be regarded as a book on the diffuse borderline between SF and Fantasy, though the rigorous approach to the use of the magical system, as well as, to be sure, the space-going setting, gives the book a feel that is distinctly SF.

Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald have been publishing their Mageworlds series of unabashed Space Opera since 1992. The books feature a conflict between the Republic and the Mageworlds, both loose associations of solar systems, separated by a large starless gap. The first five books have all been from the point of view of the Republic. This book is set some 500 years prior to the preceding books, and it is set mostly in the Mageworlds, prior to their contact with the worlds of the Republic. While the Mageworlds appear to be the "bad guys" in the other books, in this book we see the action through their eyes, and their motivations are a usual human mixture of noble and venal.

The whole series seems partly to involve a restating of the old pastoral/technological conflict. The Republic worlds are more technologically oriented, while the Mageworlds rely on the use of magic to maintain a fairly bucolic-appearing culture. One of the shocking aspects of the Mageworlds system is the way the Mage Circles use killing of members of the Circles to augment their power. This is done by sympathetic characters several times in this story, and it is one feature that tends to increase this reader's sympathy for the other worlds.

The way in which the presumable technological system of faster than light travel is integrated with the presumable magical talent of "Voidwalking" is another interesting feature. In general, the magic/science interaction of these stories seem to be excellent examples of pure Space Opera world-building: fairly internally consistent, not quite scientifically plausible but with just enough sensible handwaving to allow suspension of disbelief, and allowing plenty of room for colourful action.

The story is fairly involved, featuring several viewpoint characters and several threads of action, some only tenuously linked to the rest. The mainest main character is Arekhon Khreseio sus-Khalgath sus-Peledaen, the younger brother of the head of the sus-Peledaen star fleet/family. 'Rekhe, as he is called, is introduced to us as he is performing his familial obligation by serving in a minor capacity on a starship. His real ambition, however, is to be a Mage. His apprentice voyage is successful, and he forms a relationship with an up and coming young woman of the fleet. Then he leaves the family and joins a brand new Mage Circle, headed by an older, more powerful Mage named Garrod.

Garrod plans to try to cross the mysterious starless gap, caused by the long past "Sundering of the Galaxy," and to find the human-inhabited planets he is convinced exist on the other side. Parallel threads follow 'Rekhe's lover as her career blossoms in the sus-Peledaen fleet; the actions of a spy for the sus-Radal, one of the Peledaen family's key rivals; and the actions of a mysterious group of plotters who resent the collective dominance of the various star travelling families over the loose confederation of the Mageworlds.

The story takes a while to get going, a common problem when there are so many threads to initiate. But eventually Garrod makes his exhausting quasi-magical trip across the gap, and 'Rekhe persuades his brother to sponsor a trip to the world Garrod finds. But the technological situation across the "sundering" is rather different from what the Mageworlds are used to, and it isn't at all clear if this contact will be a good thing. At the same time, the various plots coming to a head back home threaten to disturb the settled, somewhat peaceful, order of the Mageworlds.

The conclusion is exciting and satisfying. The plots turn out to be more convoluted than expected, and in a sensible way. The authors manage to make the people of the Mageworlds believable and basically good, while at the same time setting them up to be the villains they become in future books. The various characters are also believable, and mostly likeable, even when they act in questionable ways.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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