A Company of Stars by Christopher Stasheff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a reread of an old classic for me, and I'll be the first to admit that Stasheff has his flaws ... but most of them are flaws that happen to appeal to my sensibilities, and the high points in his books are so much fun that I really don't care.
Of course, being an older science fiction novel, there are a few elements that haven't worn well - the hard copies of the news "faxes" which the characters read; the size of the memory banks of the scenery projection units (measured in gigabytes. No, really) - but beyond that, the setting feels very authentic. The technology has interesting flavor while remaining firmly in the backdrop (where it belongs in such a story), and the politics, history and social circumstances are based in universal impulses.
A Company of Stars is the tale of a pair of aging actors who decide to put together a theatrical company to tour the colony planets, leaving the bosom of their beloved New York. Providing the crucial outsider perspective is Ramou, a young, half-trained engineer on the run from a romantic entanglement. It's a great way to fill in the reader about aspects of the setting that would otherwise amount to the characters telling themselves what they already know.
The characters are archetypal, just like the roles they play, and their interactions are polished and larger than life ... dramatic dialogue in a wholly appropriate venue. Part of the fun is the anticipation of their interactions.
The plot builds naturally from a simple idea ... and even though much of the action, on the face of it, is mundane - casting calls, buying a stage projector - it is conveyed with such enthusiasm that a reader is blissfully carried along until the real conflict strikes ... and it stems from what initially seems like "mere" worldbuilding. One of Stasheff's gifts is the ability to "geek out" about something technical, whether it be the process of auditions or the operation of imaginary technology, and make it interesting to the reader.
On the other hand, one of the most consistent flaw in Stasheff's works is that the book and his characters all wear a passionate message on their sleeves. In the case of A Company of Stars, that message is about absolute freedom of speech. It does, in my opinion, reach the level of preaching, and there's no attempt to give the opposing viewpoint any validity - a straw-man argument. Even though I find nothing to disagree with in the message here, I do find the presentation of the message heavy-handed.
... and as stated above, I just don't care. This book is a blast, and even though it's clearly an episode one, it's satisfying and fun.
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