Book Review: The Dark Between the Stars -

Book Review

Mania Grade: B

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  • Author: Kevin J. Anderson
  • Publisher: Tor Publishing
  • Book Genre: Science Fiction Space Opera
  • Format: Hardback, 660 pages
  • Series:

Book Review: The Dark Between the Stars

Epic Space Opera Reborn

By Chuck Francisco     July 02, 2014

The Dark Between the Stars (2014)
© Tor Publishing
Admittedly it's been ages since I've soared the stars of a weighty space opera. As a child, the Science Fiction Book Club introduced me to all manner of alien cultures and daring space-capades, but with so many books to read I've seldom taken the time to explore strange new worlds in robustly tome sized editions. And so it was with a static clinging charge of electric that I dove bridge over star drive engines into The Dark Between the Stars, the first book in a new trilogy by prolific author Kevin J. Anderson. This new series inhabits Anderson's Saga of the Seven Suns universe, and continues the plot lines of a number of fan favorite characters from the previous books. Despite the depth of backstory, brand new readers should have no trouble jumping right in as Anderson's writing style and chapter structure lend themselves perfectly to exposition, concisely chronicling all of the necessary details. 

With a catastrophically civilization altering galactic war now nearly twenty years past, life resumes as it always seems to, flourishing even amongst the harshest environs imaginable. It's upon dangerous lava planets or coasting atop the clouds of gas giants that are found Roamers, independent human clans that live a nomadic lifestyle, eschewing the structured safety of the Confederation for the knife edge dangers presented by these deadly living conditions. There they make a risky living mining for rare metals or star drive fuel. 

The Confederation home world of Theroc is also home to the world-forest, whose interconnected roots contain a collected knowledge base back beyond into time unknown. Specially ordained green priests are able to telepathically link with the forest, adding to its knowledge, searching for answers, or sending messages to far off brethren who carry potted trees with them from the home world. Allied with the humans are the ancient Ildirans, who are all mentally connected by the "thism", a emotional network which actually routes through the mind of their Mage-Imperator. Closer now than ever before, thanks to fighting side by side with their backs against the wall in the previous war, these allies will need to pool all of their resources if they hope to survive a new danger facing the universe.

When a massive exploration ship is sent out beyond the familiar reaches of the spiral arm to explore spaces unknown, the crew encounter something so strange and horrifying as to be beyond comprehension; an almost Lovecraftian horror. A massive black cloud hangs in space before them, impenetrable to sensors, lethal to probes, and impervious to light. Their scientific postulation comes to a rather quick conclusion when the cloud begins to grow and move, seemingly of its own volition. What it could possibly be, and the implications of that, form the central narrative of The Dark Between the Stars, but the unique success of the narrative comes from author Kevin J. Anderson's rapid rotation of characters.

Chapters come short and sweet in The Dark Between the Stars, with Anderson trying on new personas like he's on a day trip to DSW. This perfectly expands the enormous feeling readers will get from the story, winging there way back and forth across known and unknown space. This is a space opera of truly epic proportions; readers will experience this tremendous adventure through the eyes of more than twenty characters. The plot unravels at a realistic pace for galactic drama  with travel, actions, and strategic moves playing out over the course of months. This may sound as though it would only serve to bog down the pacing, but the rapid chapter turnover serves to function like classic scene wipe transitions in Star Wars

To its detriment some of the resolutions do feel a bit contrived, too obviously foreshadowed from too far away. Anderson telegraphs his moves way in advance, like a poker player with an obvious tell. I found it a bit frustrating to guess at plot developments chapters ahead of time, only to be correct. Admittedly this novel isn't a mystery, and many authors become so obsessed with trying to one up readers with "gotcha" moments that it is a refreshing to see someone avoid something so outlandish. At the same time, a little more obfuscation would have been welcome. The characters and creative narrative manage to pick up the spare though, and all things considered this book offers a great time to readers.

The Dark Between the Stars offers the grand space opera experience of Star Wars, with dashes of the robust adventuring spirit of Lord of the Rings. While it's a serious page investment, the novel is quickly paced and well worth your time. The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson is out now from Tor Books as a hardcover for $26.99.

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, which looks into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous  Colonial Theatre  in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.


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