Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Stars Blue Yonder - Early Review

The Stars Blue Yonder by Sandra McDonald is third in a series that begins with The Outback Stars and is continued in The Stars Down Under. Tor Books schedules its release for July 21, 2009, and this review is based on an Advance Reader's copy.

Time travel is a well established theme in science fiction. H. G. Wells, sometimes called 'The father of Science Fiction', wrote his famous classic, The Time Machine, over a hundred years ago. He would probably appreciate the sophisticated twists in McDonald's premise on time travel, which dominates this book in the trilogy.

My preferences in science fiction are action and adventure, discovery and military, and alien culture. Personally, I do not enjoy encountering time travel in any literature, so I am not the best person to provide an unbiased review of a novel full of time travel. With that caveat, I will stipulate that McDonald's time travel premise is well done, and if I didn't have this personal quirk I'm certain I would have liked it more. Time travel was a minor consequence in the first two books, so I didn't see this coming.

In book three, McDonald develops relationships from the first two books, and I found the ending to be very satisfying from that perspective. I frequently had a sense of the kind of magical realism found in writing by Charles de Lint, for instance. But isn't that the case, when life suddenly goes sideways or upside-down (whether it is magical or science) that everything and everybody seems perfectly ordinary - until the unexpected bursts into the scene. In fact, I find real life to be just like that.

I greatly enjoy the fact that McDonald doesn't permit her characters to be stereo-typical heroes. They have aches and twinges and bruises and pratfalls. They make mistakes and have misapprehensions and fail themselves and each other. In other words, they muddle through, very much like real people tend to do. They seem just like people I might meet anywhere, and then they make the hard decisions and I understand they really are heroic, in a boy-next-door sort of way.

I don't usually write reviews that include story or plot summaries, which are available from the publisher's comments and at Amazon and elsewhere. I think there is a story-within-the-story here, and both story lines are resolved in book three to my satisfaction. Other story threads, of aboriginal myths and of the struggle of indigenous peoples also tie the three books together.

I am fascinated with Australia and its people, past and present, and these are the first science fiction books I've read that give the country and the people the main roles. For that reason alone I would recommend this series, and there is much more to appreciate as well. I can't think of another novel I've read, sf or otherwise, where the female protagonist is pregnant for most of the story. Considering how much time women spend being pregnant, that suddenly strikes me as a biased oversight, which I was greatly amused to see corrected in The Stars Blue Yonder.

An unusual and entertaining trilogy. Recommend.


David Scholes said...

It sounds very interesting and I am certainly considering purchasing it.

I am a recently published Australian science fiction author -
"Science Fiction and Alternate History - A Collection of Short Stories" published by Strategic Book Publishing, New York.

I'm afraid there is nothing very Australian in evidence in my work (which could just as easily be British or American).

To some extent therefore this has shamed me a bit.


David Scholes

Pandababy said...

Congratulations on your sf stories being published David. You made my day - another Aussies stopping by my blog to say hi.

No need for regrets but if you have strong feelings for the culture, history, geography or people of Australia, then I hope you will include a touch of it in your next stories. McDonald is an American writer, but she clearly has a passion for Australia - the land, the people and the history - and it comes through naturally.

I forgot to mention in my review - this is one trilogy I would strongly recommend not to read out of the order of publication. Some trilogies can be read as stand-alone novels, but not this one in my opinion.

Marina said...

Ironic that such a good "Australian" story should be written by a non-Australian! Your review makes me think I should dive into the TBR pile. I know I've got at least the first one in there somewhere.

I'm also an Aussie writer, albeit an unpublished one, who doesn't write about Australia. In my case, I think it's because it's "just home" and ordinary, and I'd rather write about something that feels more "exotic" to me. Food for thought.

Interesting point about the pregnant protag too. You're right -- they're very rare. I think the only one I've ever read was where she was pregnant with world-saving Super Child, and the whole plot revolved around that.

Pandababy said...

And you have a naturally funny way of putting things - if you would write about the things you know best - the 'ordinary' (to you) daily sights and sayings of your own country, then you would be an expert on your subject :)