The first chapter of the book gives us the historical background for the story. During the time 2005-2352 (2005 probably seemed plausible in 1981) people went to outer space, build space stations in other solar systems and found other planets with life. Distance and different interests made some of humanity break off from Earth and found Union. Union is now expanding earthwards, taking over stations and fighting the Company Fleet.
Pell Station is situated above the habitable planet of Pell. The fleet ship Norway comes in with a bunch of merchant ships, all filled with refugees from another station that has been destroyed in the war. The authorities on Pell are stuck with a bunch of refuges in quarantine, inhabitants with different interests, Earth Company representatives, an unruly fleet of warships, a Union prisoner of war, merchanters with their own agenda and Union who wants to take them over. Easy and nice solutions are not forthcoming.
OK, that all the plot spoiling I’m going to do, if you want more you can find a good plot summary at Wikipedia.
I really liked this book. I see that some other people who’ve read it complain that they don’t like any of the characters and therefore don’t like the book. There are certainly some characters in this book that I find very unsympatetic, but there are also characters I quite like. What makes me like the likeable ones even more is that they’re not one dimentional. Some of them seem to be genuinly nice people who has to make tough choices and are strong enough to make them, others are nice people who makes what they ultimately realise are bad decisions. Others, like Captain Signy Mallory of Norway, are not very nice but certainly has a lot of personal integrity. And then there are some not-very-nice people making decisions purely for personal gain. What I’m trying to say is that I find the characters interesting, and for me that’s a lot more important than likeable.
The author has made a very good job of showing how difficult the situation is, and made her characters behave in believable manners. It’s novel without one central character, and I think that’s a good choice. There are so many players in these events that I really like that a lot of them has a voice. This includes the hisa from Pell.
It’s also not an action novel. You might think it would be as it is about a warlike situation, but it isn’t. From the start of chapter 2 to the end of the book more than 7 months go by. Consequently many of the characters spend a lot of time waiting, being angry, scared, plotting, deciding, fleeing…. And that’s fine by me, real war isn’t action all the time either. Also, this is in space with enormous distances, where some of the trouble has come about because of distance and not very good communications, so things should take time.
The book was released in 1981 and there are a few places that you notice this. We now know that humanity didn’t start expanding away from planet Earth in 2005 and there’s some technical solutions in the book that would probably have been worded differently if the book had been written now. But, all in all, it has stood up very well to it’s age. I’ll certainly read more books from this “universe”.
Here are the opinions of some other people, they don’t always agreee with me ;-)
The first book I read in 2011 is “Slaughterhouse 5 or The Children’s Crusade : a duty-dance with death” by Kurt Vonnegut, one of the classic science fiction novels that has been on my to-read-list for a long time. It has also been translated into Norwegian and is called “Slaktehus 5 eller Barnekorstoget : en pliktdans med døden“.
I’m not going to give you any spoilers, there’s enough of that in the other sources I’ve linked to.
I loved it!
I loved the language. The sentences are fairly short and simple and there’s no annoying euphemising. The language is as direct and brutal as it probably was among soldiers in WWII. I also loved the way the story bounced around in space and time, and I loved how it made me smile with tears in my eyes.
There are enough people that dislike it, whether they’ve read it or not, that it gained at 46th spot on The American Library Association list of 100 most frequently challenged books : 2000-2009 (up from a 67th in the previous decade). So it goes. (to quote the most used sentence in the book)
Other people has opinions about it too. Most like it, some don’t. None of them advocate banning it:
- At last, Kurt Vonnegut’s famous Dresden book – NY Times, 1969
- Bokanbefalinger fra Levanger bibliotek (Norwegian)
- Lesetips frå Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek (Norwegian)
- The Midnight Cafe
- SF Reviews.net
- Jenny’s books
- When he travelled time, for the future of mankind – Pajiba
- Examining the Apparatus