Note: Following is a book review by Paul Dellinger which appeared on the leading science fiction web site Yellow 30 Sci-Fi. Our thanks to Paul and Yellow 30 for their excellent piece, which we reproduce here with their permission. — David L. Brown
The Star Phoenix
by David L. Brown
Paperback / 344pp
Hardcover / 344pp
Pub. Date: June 2006
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation
The Star Phoenix by David L. Brown is one surprising science fiction novel.
It is practically an article of faith in the SF field, at least in stories dealing with space, that humankind will eventually find a way around the light barrier or take a generations trip to colonize planets around other stars. But the emphasis in Brown’s story is that we need to straighten things out on Mother Earth first.
The story is set on an Earth devastated by global warming and other trends about which we have been warned. The population bomb has exploded, and only one out of every 1,000 people managed to survive what has come to be called Calamity. A starship, the Star Phoenix, is stranded in orbit unable to take off on its maiden voyage to other star systems.
But now that ship has become a symbol, and one group of people is determined to restore its capabilities and use the ship to transport some of the survivors of Calamity to another star with a planet which, hopefully, can be terraformed to at least accommodate their descendants. Young Jed Allen, who has been trained to be a star pilot, is one of this group. So is Tristan Hunter, a “Newbie” (New Biologic Entity) created in a laboratory and looking more like a hybrid of several animals than a human, but possessing the gift not only of speech but intelligence. He is actually one of Brown’s more charming characters. Calamity may have set back some branches of science, but genetic engineering is not one of them.
Not all the surviving groups have such noble aspirations. In what is left of Chicago, control has been seized by an insane dictator who actually believes he is the reincarnation of an ancient god. His delusions of grandeur put even The Boss, as depicted in the 1936 H. G. Wells movie, Things to Come, to shame. A third key character in the novel is the scientist who serves the tyrant, and maintains a delicate balance between carrying out orders and trying to save as many people as he can from his master’s wrath.
Jed’s group is attempting to rebuild shuttles to reach the orbiting starship, only to have other setbacks make it seem impossible. How Jed, Tristan and the scientist come together in an attempt to salvage human survival as a species makes for an exciting story, somewhat reminiscent to me of the Winston SF books for young readers I remember from my high school days. This is not a put-down of Brown’s novel; some of those Winston novels were first rate. They included early work by such writers as Arthur C. Clarke, Ben Bova, Evan Hunter, Lester del Rey and Raymond F. Jones, and some later emerged in paperback as “adult” SF.
But they did feature young protagonists, like Jed in this book, and so perhaps The Star Phoenix, like the Winstons, will be of interest to young readers. That would not be a bad outcome. SF not only gives its readers glimpses of futures that are fascinating, but also provides warnings of futures we need to avoid. This is one of the “warning” novels, the “if this goes on” story being interspersed with historical notes from our near-future showing likely outcomes of global warming and other trends we ignore now at our peril.
One could do worse than to hope that Brown’s book attracts many readers, and that they will take its sobering warnings to heart and act on them. The Star Phoenix is more than an adventure story, or can be if we take it to heart.— Paul Dellinger Y-30 Staff