Firstly, before properly reviewing this book, I want to acknowledge the beautiful title.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.
If I hadn’t already known Paolini’s work that title alone would have been enough to get me to pick up this book. To pick it up with two hands, because damn, this book is a behemoth.
The title practically screams surrealist science fiction and in part that is what we get. It starts out in a familiar way; explorers on a planet stumble upon a long lost cavern and within lies an ancient object. In this case, the explorer is Kira, and the object turns out to be some form of alien dust that seems to move. Not a spoiler, by the by, you can read as much in the blurb.
From there the reader is pulled along as Kira travels across space in search for answers. Somewhat predictably, things aren’t what they appear on the surface and Kira is forced to make choices that push her to the brink of her own perception of herself.
This book doesn’t break a great deal of new ground. It’s not an entirely new story, it’s a familiar one. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In some ways it’s stronger for those similarities to past sci-fi and when it does brush up against old tropes it is usually in an innovative and unique way; it accommodates for fans of sci-fi and people who might be new to the genre.
And that’s the key to this novel; it’s an introduction. Not just to the universe it builds and the cast of interesting characters (including a delightful pig, everybody, there’s a pig and it’s great), but also to science fiction itself.
It isn’t scary (well, except for maybe its size) and it’s prose isn’t complicated with jargon. Everything that needs to be explained is and the soft-science that underpins the universe is accessible to everyone.
This isn’t an Andy Weir novel where there might be, at most, one or two moments of hand-wavey science for the sake of the plot. It’s not hard-science fiction and it doesn’t try to be.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars knows what it is; a welcoming smile to the vast, incredible world of science fiction for people who haven’t ventured there before, and for those that have, it’s a nod to the past and a push into the future of the genre.
I can see some sci-fi fans being disappointed with the path this novel takes. The somewhat predictable turns and have-waving science. I can see why it might leave a gap in their metaphorical stomach, not quite enough to fill them up and satisfy their craving.
I devoured this book. But I have to admit when I reached the end, I was left…not dissatisfied, just unfulfilled. I felt like there was more that this novel could have said and places that it could have gone that it seemed to shy away from. But even if Kira’s journey isn’t ground-breaking, it is incredible fun
The world that Paolini crafts has a weight behind it. There was clearly a tonne of thought and consideration given to world-building and it pays off.
Paolini has laid out a banquet and To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is an entrée.
And you better believe that I’ll be hanging around for the main-course.