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The January Dancer

(Spiral Arm #1)

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,051 ratings  ·  172 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 grea
Hardcover, 350 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by Tor Books (first published September 1st 2008)
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 ·  1,051 ratings  ·  172 reviews

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Jul 10, 2016 rated it liked it
I don't know about this one. I mean, it feels pretty awesome on so many levels, and yet the characters kinda fell a bit flat for me.

I totally recommend this novel for the wild and weird adventure of the Immovable Force, aka the Dancer as it bends the wills and minds of entire civilizations, the world-building of the Rift, a lawless portion of space and it's civil war and so oddly Irish characters, and the sense that so much is going on that it's really hard to follow the enormity of it. Drunks,
Jan 28, 2012 rated it liked it
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 the
Dec 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Megan Baxter
Feb 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I feel like there are very few moments when it is not a mistake to have a character or the narrator declaim about the intrinsic difference between men and women, particularly when it's used lazily to limit women's emotional range. When it's off the cuff, that's annoying. When it then goes on to shape the women characters in the book because apparently that's really what the author thinks about women, then the irritation grows.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in
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!!!
Jan 11, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook

Yay for libraries!

I'd recommend reading this one vs listening. I love that Stefan Rudinicki is one of the main narrators for a lot of the SF/F novels. He's a great narrator. However, this story did not transfer well to audio. Not enough visuals and active scenes to make the story engaging by ear. Great characters & the potential for a well developed setting.
Mar 21, 2016 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.
Dec 25, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jamie Collins
Dec 26, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 11, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Walt O'Hara
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 17, 2015 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
Jun 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Lisa Foos
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am not going to go on and on about this book except to say that it was entirely absorbing. Flynn is a master of world building or rather galaxy building. I just love the discovery process of learning how this galaxy works, it history, social mores, politics, Flynn doesn't spoon feed you he makes you work hard for your understanding. ...more
Carolyn Vandine West
First book I’ve read by this author. A great sci-fi with lots of adventure and action. It’s hard to find a relatively clean sci-fi now. There were brief encounters some bad language, but for most part easily skimmed over. I would recommend for 15-16 years and up.
Was very good read but so slow. Lots of details to keep track of and so many subplots. I would have given it a higher rating if a little easier to follow. E-book would have been a definite plus for me. I read hardback from the library a
Aug 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
Gave up after the first few paragraphs; couldn't get past the precious, cliche-ridden prose used to just set the scene at a bar. Gah. ...more
Johan Haneveld
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
There are so many SF-novels out there, old and new, that I haven't read that I don't often go back for seconds. On the other hand: my book cases are stuffed to the rim and overflowing, as I read faster than I can acquire new books - and sometimes it's fun to go back to old favorites and see if you still think highly of them. Some books turn out to be endlessley rereadable (Terry Pratchett or William Horwood), others not so much (I tried to read John C. Wright again, but had to stop a third of th ...more
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
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it

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
Jul 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm thinking this is one for the science fiction book club to discuss. The January Dancer is a pre-human artifact that moves slowly and constantly, without being seen to move. It is the Mcguffin that bring all the characters in this sprawling novel together, eventually. The first scene, where the Dancer is found, is a great peek into an alien culture. The idea of Immovable Objects vs. Irresistable Force was eerie and horrifying.

The novel contains several points of view, although it is really a
Frederick Gault
Jan 01, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Dec 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 19, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. Please see this page for the list of authors.

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 t

Other books in the series

Spiral Arm (4 books)
  • Up Jim River (Spiral Arm, #2)
  • In the Lion's Mouth (Spiral Arm, #3)
  • On the Razor's Edge (Spiral Arm, #4)

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50 likes · 13 comments
“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.”
“So there had better be a good damned reason for [war], because even if it is good, it is still damned.” 0 likes
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