Janet Sketchley

October 18, 2009

Starfire, by Stuart Vaughn Stockton (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)Starfire, by Stuart Vaughn Stockton

Rathe’s birth order dooms him to a menial existence as a mine guard—until a chance encounter with a dying enemy leaves him a hero.

He and his best friend Rak have been through a lot together, and their jostling banter could be that of any active young men. Except they’re dinosaurs. Sentient, tool-using, weapon-wielding T-Rex lookalikes who stand 11 feet tall.

They live on the planet Sauria, and their people fear the stars. Legend says the stars are angry over an offense the Saurn have long forgotten.

Rathe’s skill in combat earns him an elite position in the Imperial Army—one that may be out of his depth. He feels outclassed in his Spur (military unit) and the second in command is looking for an excuse to send him back. One of his other spur-mates follows the unpopular Wayfarer sect, and his words about his God and His Son’s sacrifice are incomprehensible to Rathe.

Even worse is the appearance of the now-grown hatchling Rathe saved in his moment of glory. Will the young Goshren remember the truth of what happened?

Stuart Vaughn Stockton has created a richly-imagined alien landscape and culture. He lets the setting unfold around the action and resists the urge to stop for information dumps. It’s a fascinating place, especially the vegetation: some plants float, others are harvested for indoor lighting, and there’s a moving forest that eats rocks.

The characters are real. Their very human attitudes and emotions help readers connect. Long before the end of chapter one I was firmly in Rathe’s corner, relating to his struggles and cheering him on.

Starfire is filled with military clashes in a conflict where victory depends on a weapon that ancient prophecy claims will bring disaster. Should Rathe heed the warning or save his people?

I confess by the end I was as battle-weary as Rathe and his unit, and would not have jumped into a sequel if I had it on hand. Give me a while to recover, though, and by the time it’s published I’m sure I’ll be ready.

Starfire includes a size-and-shape-comparison chart for the main types of Saurn, as well as a glossary. It’s great to be able to see what the characters look like, although I found the terms clear enough from context that I didn’t need to look them up. With all these helps, I’d have liked to have a map of the action.

On reflection the character of Karey Or, and Rathe’s connection with her, hinges on the presence of two specific types of Saurn. Major plot points like this shouldn’t depend on coincidence, but Stuart Vaughn Stockton handles it so well we don’t realize at the time how big a coincidence it really is. As such, it doesn’t jolt the reader out of the fictional world.

A few species of Saurn, like the long-necked Apatos, carry names that help the reader to imagine what they look like. A stickler might argue that dinosaurs on another planet, even if they turn out in a later book to be related to ours, would not use the names we assigned to them after they were gone. To that stickler, I say, “It helps the reader visualize. Get over it.”

Marcher Lord Press is an innovative new publisher I’ve been watching from the start. Although all its titles look good and some have won awards, Starfire is the first one I’ve decided to purchase.

For Canadians (and I assume anyone else outside the continental US) I’d recommend ordering through Amazon.ca or your local equivalent.

I like to support my local Christian store, but this book cost a lot for them to bring in. Amazon.ca, even with shipping, would have been significantly cheaper. And as any good Amazon shopper knows, orders over $39 qualify for free shipping.

Amazon.ca lists Starfire at $11.87 Canadian, so you only need to find $28 worth of other products for yourself or for gifts. Maybe try another MLP title or two!

Starfire is Stuart Vaughn Stockton’s first novel, but you can tell from the richness of the story world that he’s been developing and refining it for a long time. You can read the prologue and opening chapter here.  Check out an interview with Stuart here.

–Update, 11 March 2010: Starfire won an 2010 EPPIE award (science fiction category).–

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