I remember reading Donald Moffitt’s The Jupiter Theft, back in the ’70s, and his Genesis Quest books in the ’80s. I liked the former, and thought the latter were okay. When I saw this latest book, I thought it would be a nice chance to revisit an old author. Unfortunately, my opinion of the writing isn’t greatly changed.
Moffitt, who died last year, was one of the dying breed of hard-SF authors, who carefully thought through their concepts and aimed for a reasonable level of credibility. There’s no faster-than-light travel here; while time dilation and genetic engineering allow one ship’s captain to leave Earth, cross the universe, and come back, the trip takes billions of years. In Sol’s Oort cloud, giant trees are based on a concept discussed in the 20th century. The science behind the book is, if not necessarily accurate, at least credible.
Sadly, the story itself is less strong. Moffitt’s characters aren’t terribly interesting, and in places the plot seems to simply go through the motions – insurrection, political unrest, etc. pass by more as by-the-numbers waypoints in the plot than as interesting elements in themselves. While Moffitt clearly gets a kick out of accurately applying laws of physics, listening to his characters sit around and talk about them is less fun, and not entirely credible. Toward the end, we’re treated to large and repetitive infodumps. Moffit is less rigorous about logistics and coincidence, with some key plot points relying on chance. When it comes to inter-system commerce toward the end of the book, he seemingly tosses science out the window.
The story, while apparently first published this year, has a distinctly ’70s feel to it. With one exception, the leaders are men; the women do the cooking. While the starship is quite large the cast of active characters is remarkably small – a bit like a TV show where for some reason a few people handle all the tasks. Since the book is published posthumously, there’s not much to be done about it – read it as if it were a book from the last century, and you’ll enjoy it more.
There’s not a lot to the story itself. In separate threads, we learn about the ecosystem of giant trees, and the humans coming back to the solar system. The threads eventually cross, of course. What’s surprising is how uninteresting and low-key the meeting is. Once that’s wrapped up, Moffitt suddenly throws in some complications that slightly complicate the story, but do nothing to make it more interesting. It all feels very distant.
All in all, a moderately interesting throwback to the hard SF of the ’70s. Not a bad read, but not something to go out of your way for.