Robert L. Forward:Starquake

[Spoilers for Starquake and Dragon's Egg herein-- read with caution]

First off, this is a sequel to Dragon's Egg, which I believe was Forward's first novel. I'll try to cover that in here as well, even though it's a few years since I read it... Robert L. Forward is a respected Ph.D. physicist who has done a number of papers speculating on physics near neutron stars, black holes, and such places where physics as we know it is strained to the limit. A lot of his stuff is extremely speculative, so it's only natural that he move into SF.

Prose is not his main strength, though. His characters are extremely wooden, especially his humans. His aliens are a lot better.

In Dragon's Egg, IIRC, a neutron star was detected entering the vicinity of the solar system. A scientific expedition was sent out to investigate it. (This is a few centuries in the future, btw.)

Unbeknownst to them, life exists on the star. It is life on an incredibly small scale, both in time and in space(one "day", or rotation of the neutron star, is a fifth of a second), but the ecosystem isn't conducive to swift evolution. The arrival of the humans changes that, however...

In brief, during the first day of the humans' presence near the star, a race called the cheela evolve, attain sentience, and develop civilization, in response to the humans' presence in their sky and some of their laser scanning probes.

The cheela tend to be more interesting characters than the humans, if only due to their alienness; the swiftness of their development, in human terms, allows for a fairly epic scope. The humans get short shrift because a conversation between humans takes as long as several years on the neutron star, and they soon become fairly minor characters...

By the end of Dragon's Egg, the cheela have developed a spacefaring technology, and have sent off probes to explore other neutron stars...

Starquake centers around two major crises. The first occurs when the human ship is damaged, and the cheela have to act fast(only a few years, on their scale)to repair the damage before the humans are ripped apart by tidal forces. Then the quake of the title happens. Suddenly there are only four cheela left alive on the surface of the star--and quite a few more than that left in orbit, with no means of descending. They have to find some means of returning to the star, and dealing with the barbarian hordes that have sprung up in the intervening generations...

Like I said, Forward isn't the most gripping writer, but the story of the cheela is sufficiently interesting to overcome a lot of that drawback, IMHO. Someone more interested in tech stuff would be absorbed by that, too--I skimmed the few sections of that that came up.

I'd give it a 6.5/10, a bit more if you're a real Hard SF fan.

%A Forward, Robert L.
%T Starquake
%I Ballantine del Rey
%C New York
%D October 1985
%G ISBN 0-45-31233-3
%P 339 pp.
%S Cheela
%V Book 2
%O Paperback, $5.50 US

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com