Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: StarBridge by A.C. Crispin

StarBridge (StarBridge #1)
By: A.C. Crispin
Publisher: Author's Edition


A.C. Crispin holds the distinction of being one of the voices that first made me fall in love with science fiction, thanks to her superlative Han Solo trilogy (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn). Star Wars fan or not, those are cracking good reads. However, I'd never explored her other work, and when I discovered that she'd recently re-released her StarBridge series as e-books, I knew I had to try her "unbranded" fiction. The result is an engaging coming-of-age tale, that, though lacking some of the polish of her later work, brings a fresh spin to the classic sci-fi trope of a "first contact" with a new alien species. 

On the cusp of her seventeenth birthday, Mahree Burroughs sets out from Jolie, Earth's colony planet, to return to Earth with plans to continue her education at university and somehow, someway, make her mark on the world. Traveling aboard her uncle's starship, the Désirée, Mahree chafes at the restrictions placed on her by virtue of being the captain's young relative, particularly when handsome Dr. Robert Gable is awoken from hibernation early. Though twenty four, Rob has as much to prove to the world as Mahree, and the two form a fast friendship based on a shared desire for respect and adventure. When the ship's communications systems pick up radio transmissions of an unknown origin, Mahree and Rob find themselves at the forefront of a shocking discovery -- Earth's first contact with the Simiu, an alien with an imposing, lion-like appearance. Everything goes well until a cultural misunderstanding threatens the fragile human-Simiu first contact with irreparable violence. Determined to protect both her people and her new alien friends, Mahree goes rogue, embarking on a dangerous quest that brings her before peoples and worlds beyond her wildest dreams -- an experience with the potential to change the trajectory of her life, if she survives.

While I am a relatively new fan of classic Star Trek, this novel strikes me as very much in the classic Trek vein of the thrill and danger of first encounters with previously unknown alien races. Though the technology feels a little dated by twenty-first century standards (StarBridge was first published in 1989), Crispin's ability to articulate the excitement and thrill of a First Contact discovery remains timeless. While the "nuts and bolts" of first contact protocols between human and Simiu skitters on the edge of pedantry, slowing the forward momentum of the narrative, Crispin's attention to the detail makes StarBridge something of a science fiction lover's manual for first contact in bookish form -- a testimony to her boundless imagination and passion for the genre. 

Mahree is, for the most part, a compelling heroine. Crispin sketches her teenage, growing-up angst with equal measures of compassionate warmth and humor. My favorite portion of the novel involves Mahree, Rob, and their Simiu ally Dhurrkk's journey to the interplanetary League in a last-ditch attempt to broker peace between the crew of the Désirée  and the Simiu. Mahree really comes into her own here as a potential leader. I do, however, desperately wish that Crispin had opted to forego pursuing a romance between Mahree and Rob. The fact that she's still a teenager when they consummate their relationship -- never mind the future's view of one's full maturity level at sixteen -- plays out awkwardly on the page. Thankfully Crispin hints at a possible reset or delay in their relationship by the novel's end, but without further development their earlier "romance" falls flat -- a shame in a novel scrupulously dedicated to inter-species relational development.

Although StarBridge lacks the polish and finesse of Crispin's later, tie-in work, it is an enjoyable slice of original, old-fashioned sci-fi escapism. With its strong premise and attendant endless possibilities and a solid execution, StarBridge marks an intriguing beginning to Crispin's original work and fantastic imagination. Further installments are now definitely on my radar.

About the book:

After more than a hundred years of space travel, a stray radio signal indicates the possibility that alien life might exist. The crew of the Désirée has no training in interstellar diplomacy and a minor dispute turns to disaster that could escalate into a full scale war.

Can the bond formed between two very different friends be strong enough to bridge their differences and save their people? Come along in this first book in the StarBridge Series in an exciting journey across the stars in a desperate gamble to save both their worlds.

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