The Wreck of the River of Stars


Michael Flynn


Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

August 17, 2004

didn't expect too much from The Wreck of the River of Stars, for some reason I had a negative impression of Michael Flynn, despite the fact that I had read none of his books. I am glad I gave this book a try. It describes 16 characters on a spaceship that sails along magnetic currents and/or the solar wind. But fusion "Farnsworth" drive have subsequently been invented, and much like the steamship replaced the clipper ship, fusion powered ships have replaced the sailing spaceships. The River of Stars has 4 fusion engines bolted on her side, and the sails are stowed unused in a hold, the luxury sailing ship has been converted to a tramp cargo carrier (wouldn't they offload all this unused sailing equipment? It has mass, and that would slow the cargo carrier). A freak accident cripples the fusion engines on the River of Stars, and they must be repaired quickly or the ship will miss its rendevous with Jupiter and be lost in interstellar space.

Unfortunately, the highly respected Captain Hand has perished at the very beginning of the novel. This leaves first mate Gorgas in charge of a crew that does not like nor respect him. Several of the crew members get the idea that rather than repair the Farnsworth engines, might they not deploy the sails and let the River of Stars finish the voyage in glory? Complications arise as the various crew members act on their individual agendas. Not too many of these crew members (and one passenger) actually like each other much.

In his acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, Flynn thanks someone who introduced him to the Briggs-Meyer personality scales. [Answering a series of questions allows Briggs-Meyer system to determine what type of individual you are (Introvert or Extrovert? Intuitive or Sensing? Thinking or Feeling? Judging or Perceiving?) You can take this test at - I ended up with a score of INTJ.] You can quickly see that there are 16 possible personality types described by this system. On next page after the acknowledgements, Flynn lists the 16 characters that appear in his story - do you suppose that each character is meant to represent one of the unique character types on the Briggs-Meyer scale? No wonder so few of the crewmembers get along.

Flynn does a nice job of developing each of his 14 characters (one of the 16 characters dies at the very beginning, and one of the other characters has perished before the novel begins - I guess Flynn did not want to write about those personality types.) I had no trouble keeping track of who was who, and what their motivations/relationships were.

I also applaud Flynn's description of the spaceship The River of Stars, and the technology of the sails and engines. It is always nice when an author can describe a SF environment clearly, without tedious info dumps, and still convey the impression that this is a plausible futuristic spaceship. Flynn does a great job of throwing in a few sentences here and there to add to the versimilitude, to make the River of Stars seem real in her flight to Jupiter. I have no idea if the ideas that Flynn postulates are correct, but they SEEM plausible, and that is good enough to make a fine story.

Flynn also can turn a phrase - some fall flat, but most have some cleverness to them. Just to open a page at random, I offer this example of Flynn's writing: "But if it is true that we learn by our mistakes, Evermore would one day be a very wise man. Or dead. But death, being the ultimate mistake, must surely yield the ultimate learning" Flynn seems to have put a lot of thought into his novel, and although it is 480 pages long in my hardback edition, it is interesting and flows along quite well. This book deserves its four stars. Recommended reading.