Book Review: The Greatship
The Greatship by Robert Reed
Paperback: 636 pages
Publisher: Argo Navis
Language: English
ISBN : 978-0786753666


Somewhere in the VERY distant past, someone launched a ship. A ship larger than worlds, a ship apparently built from a re-engineered gas giant. Hurtling through intergalactic space, the Ship fell between galaxies for billions of years. Until one day it passed through a section of the Milky Way.

Many races were living in the galaxy, but only one, Humanity, noticed the Ship first and was the first to get an expedition there and lay claim to this astounding prize, demonstrating the ability and will to fight for what was theirs.

Eventually, humans took control of the ship and learned to operate it. Not just to adjust its course, but to change its interior conditions. For the ship is designed with vast numbers of interior chambers, many of them tens or hundreds of kilometers across. And it contains machinery that can install any desired environment into any chamber as humans choose, or as their passengers request (and can pay for). For the humans on the Ship have set it on a course to circumnavigate the galaxy and are willing to take along representatives from any civilization that can pay (and that the human Captains deem safe and worthy to have on board).

So begins the voyage of the Great Ship and so begins the collected stories in this book of the same name. Laid out in roughly chronological order, but easily able to stand each on their own, each story tells a different tale of life on the Ship, often with thousands of years passing between each story. People in Reed's universe are immortal you see. And very, VERY, durable.

Reed has written two novels set in this universe: Marrow and The Well of Stars, both excellent reads. The stories here basically 'fill in the gaps' both before and after those two stories, and flesh out the Great Ship universe beyond what is depicted in the two main books.

OA Relevance: Moderate

Reed's Greatship universe is very hard SF. Only the super-material know as hyperfiber is a bit of handwavium. Otherwise the science and technology mostly seem spot on as far as what our understanding of the universe allows. Reed's setting is based on a galaxy that is heavily populated with many different races, many of them very old, with a loose, but longstanding galactic civilization of sorts being implied or described.

Not exactly the vision that OA presents, but a solid one that any lover of science fiction that gets its science right will probably enjoy. And no one can say that Reed doesn't think big. The titular Greatship is about the size of Neptune...

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

Reeds stories and characters are very well done and interesting, although also somewhat cold and aloof. There is something a bit...distant about his characters, most of whom measure their lives in tens or hundreds of thousands of years and can survive (and shrug off) punishment that would leave an unaugmented human a puddle of jelly on the floor. Often it leaves the character a puddle of jelly on the floor - but they just grow back together and go on about their business.

Reed's descriptions of the Great Ship are all about vast, cold spaces and black, hard stone. His characters often give a sense of being equally cold and hard. I've read other stories of his where the characters are much more 'warm and fuzzy' so this is presumably a deliberate style choice for the future he is creating here. But after a half dozen or so stories of this type, I found myself feeling slightly oppressed or chilled by a sense of claustrophobic weight. A bit of metaphorical sunlight and warmth would have been a nice addition to the pack of otherwise excellent works.

Overall Rating:

An excellent example of hard SF that likes to think big and on a grand time scale. If you like this book, I'd recommend reading the two novels afterward - many of the characters that appear in the stories also appear there. Or maybe read the novels first and then this collection. Either way will be a good read, although in the case of this collection, you may need to take a bit of a breather toward to end and go stand in a warm sunbeam for a bit while enjoying a clear blue sky and some green growing things. Just to take the chill of space and cold stone and hyperfiber off. I know I did.

Highly Recommended.

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