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The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael…

The Wreck of the River of Stars (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Michael Flynn

Series: Firestar (5)

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3011054,466 (3.7)1 / 30
Title:The Wreck of the River of Stars
Authors:Michael Flynn
Info:Tor Books (2004), Mass Market Paperback, 544 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn (2003)



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The River of Stars used to be one of the grand ships of the space lanes, a luxury magnetic sail passenger liner. Then she got older, and got demoted to carrying colonists to Mars. Then the fusion drive was developed, and The River lost a race, and started losing money, and a fusion drive was installed, and she became, of ficially, a hybrid ship. In reality, the sails and rigging were never used again. Eventually, a consortium bought her to keep her from being scrapped, and she became a tramp freighter.

Then her latest captain, Evan Dodge Hand, died while en route from Mars to Jupiter. And then her luck turned bad.

When two of her four Farnsworth engines are wrecked by a freak encounter with an asteroid (even in the asteroid belt, space is mostly empty), the crew, minus Evan Hand, has to get her fixed quickly or they'll miss turnover and not reach Jupiter orbit when Jupiter's there. Unfortunately, the crew minus Evan Hand is a disaster waiting to happen. Some of them are survivors of the old sailing days, and regard engines as an abomination. Some of them are of the generat ion that grew up regarding sails as old-fashioned and obviously inferior, while the cargo wranglers and the engineer's mate, Miko, are too young to regard sails as anything but stories out of a romantic past. Stepan Gorgas, the new acting captain, is obsessed with detail and contingency, and very slow to make decisions. He tends to assume that everyone has worked out the contingencies as thoroughly as he has, and that therefore when he gives order, it will be followed immediately without need for further explanation or follow-up. Most of the crew has come to assume that if Gorgas really wants something, he'll ask again. The engineer, Ram Bhatterji, is a firm believer in spontaneity and inspiration, not careful and detailed planning. 'Abd al-Aziz Corrigan, the second officer, is rigidly by-the-rules, hates the unexpected, and finds Gorgas and Bhatterji about equally incomprehensible. The third officer, Eugenie Satterwaithe, is also the sailing master (required by the ship's hybrid designation), and was briefly the captain of The River in the last of her sailing days and when she was converted to fusion drive. This explains why the cargo master, Moth Ratline, the longest-serving member of the crew (he came aboard as a cabin boy in the luxury liner days), tends to address her as "captain", to the ever-lovin' delight of Gorgas and Corrigan.

From there on down the characters start to get strange.

It's important to note that this mismatch of characters apparently worked, under Evan Hand. He chose his crew based on the potential he saw in them, put the effort forth to make sure he got that potential out of him while he was in command, and didn't properly think through what would happen if he weren't there.

None of the crew is incompetent. Not one of them intends to be irresponsible. They're all trying to do their best to save the ship--but in the right way, their way. And Bhatterji and Satterwaithe, in particular, aren't really trying to save the same ship.

The old sailors of the crew--Corrigan, Satterwaithe, Ratline (and Hand until he died)--meet for dinner every Thursday night, and are joined from time to time by other officers or senior crew and, on this trip, the passenger, Bigelow Fife. When Bhatterji's repairs start to look like taking too long and not being especially carefully planned, this little group starts to think about the sails, and decide to check them out and do whatever repair work is necessary so that, when the time comes, they can present Gorgas with another option, sailing The River into port one last time. And so begins a great struggle for resources, on the mundane level, and, on another level, the soul of the ship.

It's no spoiler to say what the title says: this is a tragedy. What's important is that it's a well-done tragedy; no one here does anything stupid just because the plot requires it. These characters, with their mix of virtues and flaws and virtues that are flaws would make just these kinds of mistakes. You might want to whack them on the head with the book, but you won't want to whack Flynn on the head with it.

This is a good read, well worth a few hours' time. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
I've got mixed emotions about the rating (4) I gave it ... maybe 3-1/2 might be closer to how I feel about it.
The prose is a lyrical thing of beauty, that's for sure (give it 5 for that). The plot is, well, a bit wandering. It seems to be more about the journey than the destination, and tends to be a bit slow-paced.
Don't read this when you're in the mood for fast-paced action! This is something to be savoured when you've got the time to sit and read. ( )
  briangreiner | Sep 16, 2017 |
I really did not like this book. I expected to like it -- could not stand it. I gave up halfway through and skimmed through to the end to see what happened; I felt like the book just kind of meandered its way without any real impetus to the story.

You know, upon reflection, I disliked Gone Girl for the same reasons I disliked this book. Entirely too much navel gazing and too little story. ( )
  lyrrael | Oct 18, 2015 |
Torn between 2.5 and 3 stars on this. 3 because it's an interesting experiment -- at least I'm assuming the numerous writing choices are deliberate and not unconscious. On the other hand, this was a real slog for me to finish. The title says it all: this is the (long) story of the eventual wrecking of the hybrid solar sail / powered spaceship "The River of Stars." The River plies the solar system. This final cruise is towards Jupiter. The River was once a solar sailing cruise ship, but those days are long gone, and the sails now sit unused while engines carry cargo (and one passenger). One of Flynn's experiment is to try and map the history of sails versus powered sea vessels to intra-stellar flight. This works in some places but I was unconvinced when he got to old-timers hanging out in the rigging. But Flynn's major experiment is his choice of the omniscient narrator and digressive style of Thackeray and others from the eighteenth century, perhaps to match the narrative style when sailing ships ruled the seas. Viewpoint changes frequently, as the author feels so inclined. Lectures and newly minted aphorisms abound. I found this precious, affected, and annoying after the first few pages. I'm OK with it for light comedy, but it didn't work for me with this nearly 500 page narrative of entropic decline and tragedy. Sample before buying. ( )
  ChrisRiesbeck | Jan 14, 2015 |
ereader ebook
  romsfuulynn | Apr 28, 2013 |
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Charles Sheffield
A gentleman, scholar
and good friend.
First words
They called her The River of Stars and she spread her superconducting sails to the solar wind in 2051.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 076534033X, Mass Market Paperback)

In his excellent novel The Wreck of The River of Stars, Michael Flynn looks back on the romantic Age of Sail: the second, high-tech Age of Sail, when spaceships with vast magnetic sails rode the solar winds across the immense ocean of space, and the greatest of the luxury spaceliners was The River of Stars. But the second Age of Sail is dead: the magnetic sails all were struck, and the spaceships all were retrofitted with the new Farnsworth fusion drive. Once a legend, The River of Stars is now a tramp cargo freighter, plying the outer planets with a scanty crew of men and women with questionable pasts, private agendas, and more than a little interpersonal friction.

When a bizarre failure disables the Farnsworth engines driving The River of Stars, the crew has a problem no Earthly sailor ever faced: their ports don't stay put. If The River of Stars doesn't arrive on schedule, Jupiter will be somewhere else in its enormous orbit. That means the damaged ship will speed out of the solar system and drift forever among the stars. The crew's only hope appears to be the magnetic sail. But recreating a long-gone high-tech sail isn't the worst problem this motley crew faces. To survive, they must achieve something even more herculean: they must overcome their own intricately entangled fears, hatreds, power struggles, and romantic disasters. --Cynthia Ward

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:10 -0400)

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"This is a compelling tale of the glory that was. In the days of the great sailing ships, in the mid-twenty-first century, when magnetic sails drew cargo and passengers alike to every corner of the solar system, sailors had the highest status of all spacemen, and the crew of the luxury liner The River of Stars, the highest among all sailors." "But development of the Farnsworth fusion drive doomed the sailing ships, and now The River of Stars is the last of its kind, retrofitted with engines, her mast vestigial, her sails unraised for years. An ungainly hybrid, she operates in the late years of the century as a mere tramp freighter among the outer planets, and her crew is a motley group of misfits. Stepan Gorgas is the escapist executive officer who becomes captain. Ramakrishnan Bhatterji is the chief engineer who disdains him. Eugenie Satterwaithe, once a captain herself, is third officer and, for form's sake, sailing master.". "When an unlikely and catastrophic engine failure strikes the River, Bhatterji is confident he can effect repairs with heroic engineering, but Satterwaithe and the other sailors among the crew plot to save her with a glorious last gasp for the old ways, mesmerized by a vision of arriving at Jupiter proudly under sail. The story of their doom has the power, the poetry, and the inevitability of Greek tragedy."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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