Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Starship Century
edited by Gregory Benford and James Benford
Microwave Sciences, 328 pages

Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Centre series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994).

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Three Stories
SF Site Review: Anomalies
SF Site Review: The Martian Race
SF Site Review: Worlds Vast and Various
SF Site Review: Eater
SF Site Review: Deep Time
SF Site Review: Against Infinity
SF Site Review: Artifact
SF Site Review: Cosm
SF Site Review: Foundation's Fear

James Benford
James Benford is president of Microwave Sciences, which deals with high power microwave systems from conceptual designs to hardware. Over the past forty-five years of scientific research he has written 145 scientific papers and six books on physics topics, including the textbook, High Power Microwaves, now in its second edition. His current scientific interest is electromagnetic power beaming for space propulsion. In earlier decades, he wrote science fiction in the 1970s.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Starship Century Starship Century, put together by Gregory and James Benford, is an amalgam of sorts. Part historical record, part advocacy document, part speculation, it's also a statement of purpose, that interstellar spaceflight is possible and worth pursuing.

The non-fiction side of Starship Century grew out of the 2011 100 Year Starship Symposium, a yearly gathering of academics and government researchers interested in the long-term development of spaceflight. There are plenty of well-known names involved in addition to the editors, from Stephen Hawking to Paul Davies and Martin Rees. Topics range from possible construction techniques to the economics of interstellar travel to the bigger question of why to go there in the first place. There's a wealth of information presented, mostly in a form accessible to anyone with a basic interest in the subject.

That, of course, includes many science fiction readers, and in-between the technical discussions, Starship Century features several short stories, all by writers well-known in science fiction. The highlights include Neal Stephenson's "Atmosphera Ingognita," where he pulls off the same trick he used in Anathem with front-loaded exposition and character culminating in a near space adventure story. Nancy Kress tells about an unforeseen danger on a generation starship in "Knotweed and Gardenias," and Stephen Baxter's "Starcall" connects us to an AI's journey to the stars. The final fictional piece is a reprint of Joe Haldeman's "Tricentennial," lending a far-future perspective at the end.

That perspective is welcome, but there's one other that's in short supply. Outside Nancy Kress's story, Starship Century is a bit of an old boys club. Joan Slonczewski's The Highest Frontier is listed under recommended reading, but it's easy to think that Slonczewski's biologically based technology could have added more to the discussion of generation starships than David Brin's generic "The Heavy Generation." The idea that the way to the stars may be paved by the creation of stepping stones along the way begs for input from someone like C.J. Cherryh, Chris Moriarty's ideas about artificial intelligence and space flight would fit right in to section 4, "The Starship Era," and there are many more examples out there. If the attendance at the 100 Year Starship Symposiums mirrors that of the contributors to Starship Century, it's time for some active reaching out.

There are lots of good ideas here, however, ranging from a structure halfway between a space elevator and a ground-based launch system that we're pretty close to being able to build now, to specific designs for life support systems. Starship Century is a treasury of information for any science fiction writer who's ever considered setting a story on board a spaceship. It's also a handy reference for anyone who, like all the contributors, stills dreams of travel to the stars, and dares to believe that it not only should happen, but will.

Copyright © 2013 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson thinks that it would be nice to have the space symposium in his corner of the universe sometime. Greg's reviews have appeared in publications ranging from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide