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The January Dancer (Spiral Arm #1)

3.46  ·  Rating Details  ·  788 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
A triumph of the New Space Opera: fast, complicated, wonder-filled!

Hugo Award finalist and Robert A. Heinlein Award–winning SF writer Michael Flynn now turns to space opera with stunningly successful results. Full of rich echoes of space opera classics from Doc Smith to Cordwainer Smith, The January Dancer tells the fateful story of an ancient pre-human artifact of great p
ebook, 352 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by Tor Books (first published September 1st 2008)
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High 3.5 stars

_The January Dancer_ is a very good space opera…I wish it had tipped over into great. There is a lot going on here to love: a sufficiently deep future history created through the liberal use of allusion that references any number of existing earth cultures (heavily relying on Celtic and cultures from the Indian subcontinent) along with some pretty swell creations of Flynn’s own (the Hounds, ‘those of Name’, the Terran Corners, the Rift, the People of Sand & Iron, etc.) in which
Jul 27, 2014 Terence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Space Opera fans
Recommended to Terence by: Dust jacket blurb
Shelves: sf-fantasy
I'm torn between giving this 3 or 4 stars (for the moment, I've settled on 3). It's definitely more than 3 but I want a few more days to pass while I digest the book because I've read a few lackluster efforts recently and I want to be sure I'm just not overcompensating for finally finding something worth reading and fun.

As you may have surmised, I very much enjoyed this space opera. It reminded me a bit of Iain Banks' Culture books in the irreverent style of writing and the variety of worlds Fly
This is the second book I've read by Michael Flynn, the first being Eifelheim. Both Eifelheim and The January Dancer have beautifully written, well crafted, and practically self-propelling stories taking place in vivid settings at once alien and familiar, with characters you believe and characters you don't, and you're not always sure which is which.

And in both books Flynn feels the need to interrupt those gorgeous main stories multiple times with secondary plotlines. It seems apparent that the
4.5 to 5.0 stars. A superb and original space opera that is incredibly well written. The world-building is excellent, the characters are dynamic and very well drawn and the plot is intelligent, complex and terrific. If you are looking for smart, original space opera than you have found it. Highly Recommended!!!
Mar 22, 2016 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, read-2016
3 Stars

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn is a high style literary science fiction. I wish that I could have gotten into it more than I did. I know that I missed a great deal. The writing is the center point of the whole story. It is quite flowery in an old literary school fashion. I wanted to love it but...

I should have loved this one but didn't. Maybe another day.
Feb 11, 2010 Sandi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sandi by: Terence
Michael Flynn's Eifelheim is one of my favorite science fiction novels. It takes SF in a direction I'd never seen SF go before. So, when I heard about The January Dancer, I was very anxious to read it and delighted when I found it on the shelves at my library. I thought The January Dancer was a beautifully written, very creative story. I really enjoyed the way Flynn created a future that involved humans from different planets talking in different dialects. I like how he brought the different pla ...more
Jan 11, 2012 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fable set in mythical Ireland in the far future, only it's a spy story. I can't make that sound any less ridiculous, but it's played perfectly straight and it works great. Humanity's first interstellar civilization was forcibly diaspora'd; a millennium later, the fragments have rebuilt an uneasy cluster of stellar nations while clinging to their mish-mash of half-remembered Terran history. Result: people with names like Ringbao della Costa think it's perfectly natural to write "Little Hugh O'C ...more
Jamie Collins
May 01, 2010 Jamie Collins rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I'm a fan of Michael Flynn. I've enjoyed six of his novels and I expect to read many more. This particular book is well-written, and I wouldn't discourage other science fiction fans from giving it a try, but it didn't suit me at all. My one-star rating means "I didn't like it", not "It's a terrible book."

I'll forgive a lot if the writing is good, but with this book there seemed to be more style than substance. At the halfway point I realized that I didn't care about any of the characters, I didn
Walt O'Hara
Jul 31, 2013 Walt O'Hara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
As I said about Joe Abercrombie after reading THE HEROES not to long ago, "where has THIS guy been all this time? I want more!" With that encouraging start, The January Dancer (henceforth TJD) is the first story in a Space Opera series called "The Spiral Arm". I've seen reference to Michael Flynn in relation to what is being called "the New Space Opera", which, I suppose lumps him in with the late great Iain Banks and other writers. There was not that much "new" about this Space Opera, it was a ...more
Jul 05, 2008 Liviu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the tradition of MJ Harrison Light and told with the detached ironical tone of the author's The Wreck of the River of Stars this is a superb literary space opera novel.

Written in a Celtic-laden language which gives it an archaic feel that complements its far future, space opera setting, The January Dancer tells the story of "how the Universe went insane" once an obscure crew member of a down-on-luck tramp freighter stopping on a nameless world for repairs, shifts a backhoe and touches a st
Mar 27, 2009 Stefan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I'm not going to attribute my enjoyment of this novel to a definite craving for good space opera science fiction, because aside from that fact, it's simply an excellent piece of story-telling set in an intriguing and original far-future universe that could host many more good novels in the future. I hope Flynn will decide to write them.

The novel's framing story is mostly set in an inn. A mysterious harper has tracked down a man for a story. As he tells the story about the Dancer, an alien artifa
P. Kirby
Finished? Well, not quite.

Giving up because no matter how hard I try, I can't get into this thing. Although it is billed as a "space opera," it's more like hard-as-diamonds SF with an abundance of purple prose. (Bailed at 48%.)

I confess, I bought it because it passed the first page test:

"Everything in the universe is older than it seems. Blame Einstein for that. We see what a thing was when the light left it, and that was long ago. Nothing in the night sky is contemporary, not to us, not to one
Mar 11, 2012 Banner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
This is my second book by Michael Flynn and he does not disappoint. I have come to appreciate his style of writting. It is true that he takes longer to tell a story than neccesary, but I enjoy the process.

There are several characters to keep up with, but they are well developed enjoyable to read. He builds a universe that is vast and complex. This makes it a little hard to follow the geography, but he has a map in the front of the book.

The plot is interesting and he even suprized me a little in
Feb 11, 2013 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Almost five stars.

A well-told story of galactic proportions. Interesting main characters, though almost clichés. A junior partner's crush on a senior rings false. Science as a near myth--worse a "religion"-- losing out to technology (go figure) is a nice touch. Historic figures as gods to far-distant future was well-played. Earth itself as an almost forgotten myth is good. Loved the Anycloth with embedded technology.

The framing story was a good way to maintain interest and introduce uncertainty.
Frederick Gault
Jan 03, 2014 Frederick Gault rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Although there are flashes of greatness, there were several barriers to complete immersion into the story: there are dialects, argots and slang riddling the story - add to that the fact that each character seems to use several names and it becomes a muddle to pick the thread of the tale out of the mire. There is a listing of characters, which helps, but inexplicably the map of space is missing places in the story. Finally, the story is told by a man with scars sitting in a bar. This person was s ...more
May 18, 2015 Scott rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't think I ever labelled a book "pretentious" before, so this will be a first. But that is precisely what this story is: pretentious. It is filled with self-righteous characters strutting about and emoting about their own importance (imagined or otherwise) quite a bit, but when all was said and done, I felt that this was a story filled with sound and fury that signified nothing. Now, it was NOT a tale told by an idiot: the basic story is a good one: an alien artifact that can bend the will ...more
Feb 27, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Everything in the universe is older than it seems. Blame Einstein for that. We see what a thing was when the light left it, and that was long ago. Nothing in the night sky is contemporary, not to us, not to one another. Ancient stars exploded into ruin before their sparkle ever caught our eyes; those glimpsed in glowing “nurseries” were crones before we witnessed their birth. Everything we marvel at is already gone.

So begins The January Dancer a modern space opera full of the action, politics, a
Mar 17, 2012 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars, if I could give it that.

I experienced this as an audiobook and my mind wandered a bit, though it's no fault of the novel. I was just in a distracted state early on and missed some key points. I tended to lose track of the characters and the story -- however I kept listening in spite of this because of the language and the ambiance. In many ways that is why we read space opera, is it not?

This work is chock full of everything one could want in a space opera. It seems to be paying a lov
Mary Catelli
A space opera tale of intrigue, mystery, adventure, and romance, all revolving about the Dancer, or the Twisting Rock, a prehuman artifact of strange abilities, and spanning wondrously detailed star systems, with a detailed back story.

It opens with a harper coming into a bar -- the only bar on the planet Jehovah -- and seeking out the scarred man there for the story, so that she can make songs of it. Or so she says.

So he weaves her the tale, with no less than three beginnings: a tramp spaceship
Nov 19, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
This was hard for me to get in to--largely because, like Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles, it's framed as a flashback story with frequent interludes that return to the storyteller's present and are developed enough to become an auxiliary plotline. In this case, though, the secondary story was too sketchy to be more than a distraction. The main tale, about the (re)discovery of a purported alien artifact that compels obedience to anyone who holds it and the subsequent wild scramble by sever ...more
Oct 27, 2008 Trip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The main story is space opera in a setting where humanity has dispersed from Earth far enough to have lost contact but no so far that there's no continuity of cultures. Bonus space-opera-subversion points are awarded for ships that are hampered by the lack of port facilities. Some points might be subtracted for racism, but it might be legitimate social commentary.

The frame story, however, turns it into almost a mystery, as one character recounts the events to another, subtly telegraphing future
Kelly Flanagan
Not bad, but not my favorite book either. I can't put my finger on what it was, I enjoyed most of the characters in the story; there was lots of action; even the way the story was told was interesting enough. Maybe it was that a couple of the plot thickeners were added to late for my taste. In fact I felt the story was lacking until most of the way through the book and then it was as if it lacked what it needed to keep that level of intrigue and information going.
I know, vague reasons, yet I fo
Jonathan Geurts
I haven't had a piece of science fiction do more than just entertain me since I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. In this case, Flynn has written a very futuristic story in one of the ancient story-telling forms--that of the Medieval minstrel set. Each chapter of the story accomplishes a certain mood and force, which are explained and defended by those telling it--a scarred man and a harp player in a Mos-Eisley-style spaceport bar. The extra dimension of revealed narrators gives the stor ...more
John Loyd
Nov 07, 2015 John Loyd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The scarred man is recounting the tale of the prehuman artifact the twisting stone a.k.a. the January dancer to the harper. There is an interlude between each chapter where the focus is on them. After the few chapters, each one being totally different, the harper asks "Is this to be all beginnings and no ends?" Which is exactly what the reader is thinking.

The United League is ruled by the Ardry. As you get further away from high Tara the less their influence. Their [sort of] policemen are hounds
Jonathan Palfrey
A couple of months ago I bought this book, read about a sixth of it, put it down, and haven't picked it up again. So I can't write a proper review of it; all I can say is that it seemed quite well written, but the initial chapters failed to hold my interest. Some books suck me in and I read on compulsively, but not this one. Your reaction may be different.

I give it two stars because I can't definitely identify it as a bad book. Perhaps it's just a slow starter and you need to read the whole thin
Feb 18, 2009 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is really 3.5 stars. Some parts of this book felt messy, as if the author wasn't sure where he was going next. But overall it was an enjoyable experience in a very interesting universe. Having set up this vast universe full of barely introduced worlds and tomes of unexplored history, as well as only doing a minimal amount of "tying things up" in the end, I look forward to much more to come.
Nov 17, 2015 Charles rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked “January Dancer” in the end, but the story requires patience which may be undeserved. The author’s device of a story being told in a bar between two characters, and then cutting back and forth within the story makes the book out overly long.

Firstly, this story is very Old Skool. It’s very Heinlein-esque. Also, it is only superficially a ‘space-opera’. It reminded me more of a fantasy ala Fritz Leiber’s “Lankhmar-series” only with space travel. There was also a credible leavening of MIL-S
Bianca Klein Haneveld
Dit boek is voor de fijnproever, de denker, de science fictionliefhebber. Ik kon zien dat het prachtig is, maar bleef er zelf een beetje buiten. Het is een boek als een symfonie - neem er de tijd voor en het betaalt zich terug. Maar ik zal eerst nog wat eenvoudigere science fiction lezen voor ik bij dit soort boeken terugkeer.
Feb 07, 2014 Cam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author is one of my favorite in sci-fi today; his Eifelheim is a 5-star look at an ET crash landing in Europe in the medieval ages and why we've never heard of it. This one is more of a standard space opera set in a far future where the golden ages of an interstellar human empire are long gone - humanity is split by a great rift and largely stagnant. Enter a pre-human artifact discovered on one side of the rift and a struggle for possession of it by different factions and several different s ...more
Tim Jin
"The January Dancer" is the first book in the Tales of the Spiral Arm series and while it is written well from Michael Flynn, I'm not too sure where the story is going. I am assuming that the author is laying down the foundation of this space opera.

At a glance, January Dancer is a let down, but as I read it more and as I understand the storytelling, I get where the series is going. If you are looking for sci fi action with sonic booms, you won't get any of it in this book.

The first book is mor
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Michael Francis Flynn (born 1947) is an American statistician and science fiction author. Nearly all of Flynn's work falls under the category of hard science fiction, although his treatment of it can be unusual since he has applied the rigor of hard science fiction to "softe
More about Michael Flynn...

Other Books in the Series

Spiral Arm (4 books)
  • Up Jim River
  • In the Lion's Mouth
  • On the Razor's Edge

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“Everything in the universe is older than it seems. Blame Einstein for that. We see what a thing was when the light left it, and that was long ago. Nothing in the night sky is contemporary, not to us, not to one another. Ancient stars exploded into ruin before their sparkle ever caught our eyes; those glimpsed in glowing "nurseries" were crones before we witnessed their birth. Everything we marvel at is already gone.

Yet, light rays go out forever, so that everything grown old and decayed retains somewhere the appearance of its youth. The universe is full of ghosts.

But images are light, and light is energy, and energy is matter; and matter is real. So image and reality are the same thing, after all. Blame Einstein for that, as well.”
“He was a man of great depth but of limited breadth, so that while he knew very little, he knew a great deal about it.” 0 likes
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