Blogging the Hugos: The Dark Between the Stars

The Dark Between the Stars
Kevin J. Anderson
Category: Best Novel

Dark_Between_the_Stars_2014_1st_edNow this book, I hated.

Let’s start with the prose. The prose is simplistic, not in an elegant and concise way but in a clunky, pedestrian way. Sometimes it takes on the cadences of a story told to children. The author’s preferred technique is tell-don’t-show, and there is a lot of telling indeed—the book runs to nearly 700 pages. If I start a book and I don’t find the plot interesting, or the characters compelling, I can still continue reading with the hope that these things will improve as the story develops. But if the prose is bad at the beginning, you know you’re stuck with it.

So what about the characters and the story? Sadly, those are as simplistic as the prose. The characters are one-dimensional, and there are a dizzying number of viewpoint characters, meaning that none gets the time needed to be more fleshed out. Character motivations are sometimes stereotypical (the ambitious wife who neglects her family for her career) and sometimes simply baffling (the sociopathic fixer with a total and totally unexplained devotion to his employer). Character interactions are equally arbitrary—put a male and a female character in a room together, and they seem to magically fall in love just because the narration said so.

The story, meanwhile, is extremely derivative of other, better sci-fi and fantasy sagas with all the nuance stripped away.The primary antagonists are creatures of pure darkness who want to eradicate all life, immune to all the protagonists’ weapons, so of course they are saved by a deus ex machina. (Uh, spoiler alert.) Apparently, these beings formed from the void itself are simultaneously made of pure entropy. Am I being pedantic when I say that if the author had bothered to learn what entropy is, he would have discovered that a state of emptiness has no entropy at all? I’m saying it anyway. (Also, everyone knows that the correct weapon against creatures of darkness is Magic Missile. Sorry—even I indulge in reference humor occasionally.)

The author has written a previous seven-book series in this setting (this is the start of a new series), and yet the world still seemed underdeveloped. I don’t have an idea of what the Ildirans, the other major alien race, even look like (aside from that they have some kind of color-changing lobes on their faces?) , nor any clue about the appearance of the human-built robots. (Maybe this is covered in the previous series, but a refresher at the start of a new saga would have been nice.) Despite the number of characters, the society they live in seems tiny—travel times are insignificant, and there only seem to be about thirty important people who are constantly running into each other. Of course, most of them are royalty, although how humanity has regressed to monarchy as it expanded out into the stars is unclear. (Ancillary Justice had a very interesting answer as to how an autocrat could rule a vast interstellar nation. This book, not so much.) On the other hand, we never see any of our heroic royalty do any actual governing, so who knows how these societies actually function.

I once encountered the phrase fractally wrong, meaning “wrong at every conceivable resolution”. This book is fractally bad. The main plot, the subplots, the individual scenes—there was a minor scene that made wonder if the author even knew how restaurants work. This book shouldn’t be within miles of a literary award. It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourselves—stay far, far away from The Dark Between the Stars.