Wednesday, June 10, 2009

RETRO READS: STAR BRIGHT...Review by Derek J. Goodman

[Derek J. Goodman reviews a somewhat obscure but evidently rather interesting novel. Watch for more "Retro Reads" columns in the future right here (I've labeled the two so far as "Retro Reads" so they may be called up together from the labels list), and also stand by for Derek's short story "Rental Property" forthcoming in M-Brane #6.--CF]

Today we’re going to take a look a writer who, even if you don’t recognize his name, you’re still probably familiar with his most famous creation.

Martin Caidin (1927-1997) wrote prolifically, but a large portion of his output was not science fiction but aeronautical fiction and history. He was even known to restore old aircraft in his spare time. His actual science fiction varied from the novel Marooned, which was turned into a 1969 movie starring Gregory Peck, to two Indiana Jones novels. His biggest claim to fame in sci-fi, however, is the 1972 novel Cyborg which introduced the character of Steve Austin, better known to fans of classic television as The Six Million Dollar Man. What I’ve read so far of his fiction would imply that he may have been an influence on Michael Crichton, as Caidin was writing techno-thrillers long before Crichton turned the genre in best-seller material.

Caidin’s 1980 (although the cover shown is from the 1990 reprint) novel Star Bright, while not one of his better known works, often feels hauntingly prescient, as the premise starts with an idea that is perhaps even more relevant now than when it was originally published: the search for alternative energy.

Dr. Owen Kimberly is an aging professor that was formerly the most brilliant scientist involved in experiments with hydrogen fusion. Abandoning government work after his higher-ups refused to acknowledge his concerns with the unknown factors involved in creating the hydrogen bomb, Kimberly one day finds himself called out of the blue to Washington, D.C and a meeting with the president himself. While Kimberly has been gone for so many years, lesser men have been trying to take his theories about sustainable fusion energy and make them a reality. And unfortunately for the world, they have succeeded. Instead of creating a simple working fusion reactor, they have actually created a microstar, a pinpoint of energy that has all the energy of the sun yet is smaller and denser. And even though they are no longer feeding the microstar the fuel it should need to continue burning, it’s still working, even growing.

Since the people in charge of the microstar, known as Project: Star Bright, basically ignored all the safety measures Kimberly once recommended in their hurry to create a new sustainable energy source, the growing microstar has become a serious danger not to just the immediate area of the project but the whole world. As the microstar becomes denser it appears to be well on its way to becoming a black hole, and the magnetic field surrounding the star can only hold back its increasing energy for so long. If Kimberly doesn’t find a way to put out the microstar soon, then it will become so heavy that it will sink to the center of the Earth and rip the whole world apart.

As the microstar grows in power and density it begins to have numerous adverse effects on the planet, and this is where Caidin really starts to shine. While his lengthy explanations of the science involved can sometimes come off as dry, he still shows us through beautiful and amazing imagery just what would happen to the planet if it had a barely-controlled space-time anomaly sitting on it. The book comes across much like a Bruckheimer summer disaster movie would if, you know, a Bruckheimer movie ever involved something resembling ACTUAL SCIENCE. It also differs from a summer popcorn muncher in the ballsy-ness of the ending, where Caidin actually goes for a more realistic ending for the characters than a typical deus ex machina where they all make everything better and no one important is any worse for wear in the end. Caidin actually has the guts to give us something of a downer ending, even if it is disguised as a success.

Star Bright
sometimes lacks very good characterization, but in the end it succeeds exactly where it was intended: it’s a quick, rousing read with some interesting science. Overall it is a book worth picking up and checking out if you ever find it.

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Brandon said...

Nice. I've not heard of Caidin so now I have a new name to scan for at the used bookstore on the Denton square. :)

Brandon Bell

Anonymous said...

The first I had ever heard of Caidin was last year when Bantam released his Indiana Jones books in time for the movie. When I researched to see if he had written anything else I was surprised that he could have created something as well known as the Six Million Dollar Man and yet be virtually forgotten today. It just didn't seem right to me.

Brandon said...

It is surprising. I mentioned David Bunch in my last post and when I was looking for links to his books, I was surprised how difficult it was to find. And he was pretty well-known. It is nice to make these 'discoveries.'

Brandon Bell

Merc said...

Nice review, Derek! (Loved the comment on Bruckheimer films, lol. %-))

I'm compiling a list of books to look for at the used bookstore when I get a chance to drop by.

Looking forward to more!


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