Every week I pick up a dusty old science fiction or fantasy book from a BMV in downtown Toronto. It’s a ritual of mine, but I’ve never really thought about reviewing one of the books.
Writing a book review is a first for me, but what a book to start off with. Science fiction and fantasy with myth-filled worlds have always been my favourite type of reads. A world exists within the pages of a book, a compartment of paper bound with people, places, monsters, and starships wrapped in a beautiful cover. Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Taking place over the span of a few hundred years, Mark S. Geston’s Lords of the Starship is an confusing read, but it rapt my attention. The world’s population is set on building a starship to escape the Earth, which they see as a kind of purgatory.
The book is a commentary on the very efforts of our own world’s efforts to build its infrastructure, but to what end? That’s what the book asks. And its end, as you’ll find out, isn’t what you might expect.
The book takes place some 3,000 years in the future after the technological implosion of human society. Mutant creatures ravage the Earth, swords and shields are the bread and butter of the world’s armies, and empires stretch across the land.
Largest of the empires is The Caroline and one of its generals has a plan to spur the world back into action: By leaving the planet we can escape purgatory for a heaven somewhere in the stars. The mythic planet is called Home and the starship that will take the Earth’s population there is all ready to go.
Underneath a massive structure called the Yards is a plan to build a Starcraft that spans nine miles in width, three miles in length, and several miles into the air. The Victory is the world’s salvation from the bitter prison they are trapped on.
The problem is that while it seems like a good idea, it’s just a smokescreen for a larger plan. You see in the World, as it is known, infrastructure is pretty much nonexistent. The plan is to use the Starship Victory as a way to make the people of the world to build its infrastructure, so when it comes time to fly they’ll look back and love the fruits of their labour.
General Toriman, who dreamed up this idea, brings in Harry Limpkin from a redevelopment agency to spur the plot into motion. It works for the most part, but the journey there for the reader is filled with traps and plot holes.
I think most of the science fiction and fantasy novels I’ve read in the past take place over the span say a week. The plot will start, the protagonist will get his or her buddies to help out, and then everything will be solved in time for the weekend.
Lords of the Starship takes place over the span of an almost indeterminate amount of time. Characters who you thought would be a major focus in the story come and go, fight and die. The setting changes from a place ruled by technology to suddenly having characters charging into battle with arcane weapons and fireball shooting staffs.
Unlike so many of the fantasy worlds that have a solid, continuous identity this one seems to meander a bit. The action is deep and descriptive almost being able to see some of the pitched battles described in the story, but the framed nature of each character’s story prevents a consistent world from taking shape.
When Henry Limpkin dies it’s just too sudden. The story just cuts him out in lieu of a few other characters the reader has little attachment to, but this brings up an interesting and pivotal point in the story. While Trebbly, Rome, Coral, and the other characters are met by the reader the true character is right in front of your eyes the whole time.
The Starship Victory is the main character.
In the later half of the book two groups of worshippers of the starship form: The Technos and The People. The class struggle depicted between the two of them culminates is a bloody battle that consumes the two groups, but they both worship the Victory.
It’s almost a religious experience for visitors to the Yards. The world’s tallest structure is the Burj Dubai at 2,700 feet or half a mile in height. Imagine that structure with almost ten more stacked on top of it. You’d have the Starship Victory.
The world of Lords of the Starship converges on the Victory and its vision. It becomes a kind of hope for the future, but it also signals to the rest of the world that The Caroline are ready to be put down a peg. The Eastern empire of the World, who represent the descendants of the Earth’s original population, aren’t ready to leave their old traditions behind.
With sword, spear, and shield in hand they make a bloody march for the Yards.
The book culminates in this giant battle between the two sides with what I like to call “Hero Units” converging on The Yards. Two giant frigates – the Frostfire and Blackthorne – and a naval cruiser – the Havengore – plough into the starship destroying its outer hull ruining any chance of it taking off.
This last scene brings together the whole World in a bloody, violent, froth-at-the-mouth inspired battle. Air plans crash land onto the Victory, the people of the Yards die defending the ship, and everyone at the end of the story is just… dead.
It’s utterly destroyed and heartbreaking to see the Victory torn apart. There’s nothing left of the World’s effort to escape from its purgatory, but there’s more to this plot than meets the eye.
Lords of the Starship starts a conversation about the struggles of the Earth’s technological development alongside the rest of the world.
The Victory represents a last ditch effort of humanity to revive itself through collective labour, but it ends with the utter destruction.
There’s a twist ending to the story. I won’t get into it other than it being a horrible anticlimax to an otherwise exciting ending. For readers it’ll be pretty obvious though you might groan.
It’s a good book and a good first read for this series of fantasy and science fiction reviews. If you’d like to read it send me a line and I’ll mail it to you. It’s good to share interesting reads like these.
Wow, this is amazing. I first read – and loved – this book around 35 years ago. For about the last 20 years I’ve been desperately trying to remember the title, so I could find it and enjoy it again. Unfortunately, apart from the plot, I couldn’t remember anything else about it.
Today, the word ‘Havengore’ jumped into my mind, so I googled ‘Havengore Science Fiction’ – and your review popped up. Now I can try to find it so that I can enjoy it all over again. The wonder of the wormholes of the Internet!
Thanks a lot.
Glad to hear the review helped you find the book. If you want you can email me and I can send you the book. I’m done reading it and don’t mind mailing it out. Check my about section for deets.
Enjoyed your review. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend Geston’s loosely related sequel, “Out of the Mouth of the Dragon”. Set about a thousand years after “Lords of the Starship”, the Earth is finally dying and the dwindling populations live without hope, seeking only to die in a final Armageddon. Their problem is which Armageddon? The Havengore makes a cameo appearance, but I don’t remember if it’s the same one or a descendent.
Just read this book, though I’ve had a copy since it was published around 1967. My High School PE teacher was the author’s dad, and my copy of the book is autographed by the author, though I can’t remember the circumstances of how I got the book. In any case, I enjoyed your review, though I wonder if the action really takes place on Earth. The references to “Home” in the book make me think that perhaps “The World” is a colonized planet. Certainly the map doesn’t look like continents on Earth, though the names have Terran origins (the river Tyne, the Caroline, for example). I haven’t read the sequels, so I may be off in left field regarding the nature of the planet where the action occurs. Overall I say not bad for a first novel, with some writing that is poetic at times and violent at other times. Certainly a dystopian work. I have a copy of his second novel (also autographed) and will tackle that next.
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