Monday, August 10, 2020

The Dust of Stars - Robert E. Vardeman

Robert E. Vardeman has been writing top-notch science fiction for about forty years now, and that’s almost how long I’ve known him. His latest novel, THE DUST OF STARS, is the first book in a new series called ENGINEERING INFINITY, and it’s everything I love about science fiction.

First, it has big ideas. And I mean E.E. “Doc” Smith big: An ancient, long-disappeared alien race scattered planet-sized machines throughout the galaxy. These machines, called World Engines during the era in which the story takes place, are capable of pulling cosmic dust out of the void and using it to build entire solar systems, stars and all. This process takes billions of years, but because of the time-dilation effects of the faster-than-light drive humankind has developed to take them to the stars, somebody can start one of these World Engines going—provided he has the proper Key to make it work—and come back a week later, relative time, to find the new solar system up and ready to go. Our hero, Remagen Roullei, owns one of these World Engines and is one of the richest men in the galaxy because of it, and to satisfy his adventurous nature, he hires it out to people even richer than himself to make new solar systems for them. In order to do that, however, he first has to locate a new Key for each job, and they’re hidden in different places. Oh, and there are space pirates, too, including a beautiful former lover who now carries a grudge against Remy.

With this set-up, we get epic space battles (including using an artifically generated comet as a weapon—see what I mean about Doc Smith!), Indiana Jones-style exploits in underground temples on strange worlds, some hard-SF speculation, great characters including a sexy alien (it’s part of her biology that she gives off overwhelming pheromones, but she’s also the best at programming quantum computers),  a robot sidekick who may or may not be trustworthy, since his primary loyalty is to the mysterious leader of the robo-sapiens called the Gearmeister, other colorful aliens, and some despicable villains. Remagen Roullei is a fine protagonist, too, tough, smart, and even a bit swashbuckling on occasion, one in a long line of scientific genius mavericks in the tradition of Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk, and Richard Seaton.

It’s easy to see that Vardeman had great fun writing this, because I sure had a great time reading it. He’s left things open for plenty of sequels, and I’m looking forward to reading them. If you don’t care for the glum, dystopian, navel-gazing stuff that passes for science fiction these days, you can still find the real thing among the independent and small presses. This is the second excellent new SF novel I’ve read in recent weeks, the other being David Hardy’s THREE BLACK DEEDS. As for THE DUST OF STARS, I give it a very high recommendation. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.


Jeff Meyerson said...

I haven't read it yet - sounds like my cup of tea too - but another thing to recommend it these days of bloated books - it is short.

Adventuresfantastic said...

This is definitely my cup of tea, and I've been thirsty for some good ol' fashioned sf. Sold!