Stardance (and sequels) by Spider and Jeanne Robinson

This is another book (or rather trilogy) to which I compare other books on life in space.

Stardance, the first novel, is an expansion of the Hugo winning novella of the same name; it’s actually two stories in one: an attempt to create an innovative new variant on dance–space dance–and a ‘first contact’ with aliens who (surprise surprise) communicate best with humans through the medium of dance. The first half centers largely around Shara Drummond, who is a gifted dancer who is quite simply far too large, in all her dimensions, to be anything remotely acceptable to any dance company on Earth. She fixates on creating a new form of dance in space. Unfortunately her life is cut short by an encounter with a cloud of aliens. The second half covers what happens when the aliens who ‘killed’ Shara Drummond return, and the only people who might possibly be able to discuss treaties with them are the dance troupe formed as a result of what happened to Shara. I read it in high school, probably when I was intellectually at about the right age for Robinson’s works1. While I can understand detractors’ position, and even agree with them for the most part, I find the book to be an interesting take on what it might be like to attempt a dance studio in space. Precious little funding, no idea what kind of abilities one’s looking for in students of this new art form and the technology still too rudimentary to do more than film productions with an added soundtrack.

Of the three, I’d say that Starseed was the weakest for me; the novel began by cruising along with a mildly intriguing plot–what happens once the Stardancers have settled in and gotten their center for recruited candidates up and running? how would a renowned dancer react upon discovering that there was a possible way to continue her career after her body failed her2?–when, in the last few chapters, the denouement reveals that the whole plot and purpose of the book was something completely different: a group loathes the Stardancers enough to destroy them, and the washed up dancer is the only one who realized whodunit. It doesn’t help that I’m not keen on the sudden infusion of Zen in this one. Nothing against Zen, mind! It’s something about which I’d be interested in learning; no, my objection is to the fact that there’s a religion in the second book where there was none in the first and precious little in the third. I would have liked this one much better if it had been just Rain M’Cloud’s voyage to learning a new dance form, though I understand why the Robinsons threw in the international conspiracy: it’s more exciting.

Starmind was a little better, I think, because it stripped out most of the woo-woo fuzzy feel good stuff from the second book and concentrated on the dissolution of a loving marriage by what is, quite literally, the offer of a lifetime–Artistic Director of the ultimate Luxury Hotel (on Earth and off it) to one spouse, which unfortunately means that the other spouse must either leave her beloved home or her beloved husband. Why? the job is in space. If the husband takes it, he will adapt to zero gravity…and if she stays with him, she too will adapt similarly. The only real problem with this book, though it’s fairly big!, is that there’s not nearly as much mention of the aliens, the Stardancers and the future of humanity towards which both are forcing an unwilling species…so the ending of the book feels almost tacked on. I don’t much like deus ex machina endings, even though this makes sense in the context of the trilogy as a whole. It makes for better science fiction, I think, but doesn’t fit much with how the trilogy began.

Hopefully, I haven’t offended the Zen Buddhist faction?

1not quite the slam it sounds…hey, I’m still reading it now!
2for those who weren’t paying attention: dancing, being one of the most strenuous careers physically, results in participants’ bodies giving out long before their minds are ready to call it quits


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