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The Well Of Stars
Robert Reed
Tor hardcover $25.95

review by Tony Lee

This sequel to Marrow continues the grandly epic story of the Great Ship, a gigantic alien vessel that's larger than many planets. The ship was colonised by humans, millennia ago, and now serves as a kind of galactic hotel run by near-immortal captains for the benefit of wide-ranging alien species, enjoying their exploratory tour of the Milky Way. Following the belated discovery of a living planet with a terrible secret at the core of the Great Ship, the divided crew fought and survived a war, that ended with a change of course for the star travellers. Now the ship is headed into a mysterious nebula called the Inkwell, where strange beings called polyponds are waiting, to welcome their visitors or, perhaps, to ambush them...

"The world was taller than she first appeared."

Human emissary Pamir leads a scouting expedition to make contact with the Inkwell's presumably friendly inhabitants, while the much-married infiltrator Mere embarks on a wholly different solo mission away from the Great Ship. Years and decades fly past while the ship approaches and crosses the aptly named black nebula. Washen, a rebel captain made good from Marrow, is at the centre of much of the drama and intrigue here, and Robert Reed manages to generate considerable unease and tension by means of gradual revelations about the true form and nature of the enigmatic and secretive polyponds.

Aside from the super-science concepts such as 'hyperfiber' armour, and the usual space opera assortment of weird and wonderful aliens like the harum-scarums, what ensures that The Well Of Stars holds readers' attention throughout frequent narrative shifts and fast-forward chaptering is the author's keen, almost obsessive, focus on characters, regardless of the novel's ambitious scale (did the Great Ship's builders also create the cosmos?). And, despite their apparent immortality and ability to adopt whatever robust form they might choose, most - if not all - of the captains manage to retain their basic humanity, whatever the scale of their plans, so there's no shortage of absolute terrors or surprising humour for these principled and admirable heroes.

All in all, this is another excellent page-turner from the always-reliable Mr Reed!
Well of Stars

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