**spoiler alert** "Somewhere, EE Smith, Gene Roddenberry, and Iain Banks are sitting around wishing they'd written a Space Opera as entertaining as Sw**spoiler alert** "Somewhere, EE Smith, Gene Roddenberry, and Iain Banks are sitting around wishing they'd written a Space Opera as entertaining as Swallow the Sky. Intelligent world-building, strong characterization, and settings that are just rip-roaring good fun! It tells a tale the old-fashioned way - brilliantly!" My blurb on the book!
It’s the kind of book I don’t read much of because so much Space-farin’ adventure leaves me cold, but here, in this wonderful book, I was absolutely blown away by the characterization and plot. I’d say it is the first novel I’ve read since Stephen Goldin’s Scavenger Hunt that I could accurately describe as ‘‘rollicking” without a hint of irony! It’s just so much fun. If there is a character in the history of science fiction that I may, in fact, be related to, it’s Carson. He’s an inter-galactic mailman. There’s an occupation that you don’t see mentioned in a lot of science fiction (I seem to remember Douglas Adams having one in one of the Hitchhikers books?) and it’s certainly a wonderful vocation for a science fiction space-farer. Carson also happens to be a collector of Antiques. He discovers the location of many of Earth’s lost artifacts, and thus, he’s off, racing against time and other driven parties. He’s gotta get to ‘em before anyone else, or else. Much more else! That premise alone is a wonderful throwback to classic SF stories, and Goldin’s novel is an excellent example of the subsubgenre that Swallow the Sky belongs to. It’s not just about the race to the stuff, it’s about Carson’s combination of pleasure-driven egomaniacism and cunning. That’s a great pairing for a hero, equal parts Han Solo and Indian Jones, but with a hint of Philip Jose Farmer’s Greatheart Silver. Our bad guy is pretty much drawn from the classic villains, though I’m not sure why I got the feeling of Professor Moriarty less than Phileas Fogg when I was reading the portions dealing with Juro. Some of the funnier bits are times like when Carson has to explain how a ‘tape recorder’ works. I almost didn’t recognise the description, though I totally understand how one would wonder how such a thing would exist! The way it rolls along completely had me wishing they still made movie seriels, because this would be an ideal piece of fiction to adapt into that form! The mix of old-fashioned adventure mixed with more contemporary writing along with the somewhat episodic nature of the storytelling would lend itself perfectly to that format. If I’ve got a complaint, it’s the wrap up. The way it’s paced is so solid all the way through, and then we get to an ending that feels as if we hit a wall all of a sudden. Still, it doesn’t detract any from the enjoyment of the writing or the plot’s fantastic movement. If I were reviewing this in 1989, I’d have pointed to the moments of “As you well know, Susie...”, but here that technique gives the impression of Classic SF of the 1950s and 60s, and the entire presentation works to give off that feeling. I’d love to see another book focusing on Carson, as it’s a character type I’d love to see more of. There’s not a lot of loose ends in this one that he could play a direct sequel off of, but there’s sure enough good stuff in the characterization to allow for something else bookworthy to happen to our Commonwealth Mailman!
My Favorite Passage - The center of the city was dominated by the latest architectural craze, organic-themed buildings. Towers sprouted branches, leaves, and fronds that interlocked with their neighbors like trees in a densely-packed forest. Four hundred meters above the ground condominiums snaked between cafes, art galleries writhed over gymnasiums while twisting walkways joining one building to another. Carson winced at the complexity, although no matter how clever the construction crafting the leasing agreements between adjoining properties must have been the ultimate challenge. ...more