Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, August 27, 2012

1968: Catch a Falling Star (Brunner, John)

158 pages isn't quite an epic quest (3/5)
From February 16, 2011

My tenth Brunner... good going and getting stronger with little end in sight when considering his vast bibliography. It's a joy to delve into Brunner's mind, a mind which has created ten (the current count) versions of bizarre universes, strange humans and their circumstances, intelligent reflections of the future, and discerning visions of reality. While Catch a Falling Star may not really encompass any of those Brunner feats, it still has a Brunner-esque quality that this reader adores.

Rear cover half-synopsis:

"A hundred thousand years from now, it was discovered that a star was approaching the world on a collision course. Its discoverer, Creohan, figured there might be time to save the world if he could arouse everyone to the danger."


Creohan, who is housed in a mildly intelligent organic house hosting a telescope belonging to its prior occupant, spots bright star which becomes brighter and brighter with time. Consulting the Historickers, Creohan find that's that the approaching star has been approaching for millennia and will pass by earth in 288 years. With this knowledge he tells the townspeople who then dismiss his mourning as banal. Upon finding the free-spirited Chalyth, the couple begin a journey across the earth to search for other cities who they have lost contact with, to search for a technological civilization who have the power to catch a star, to save humanity, to allow humans to endure on their planet.

The quest that Creohan and Chalyth take themselves on spans wildly different landscapes, a wide scope of evolved or mutated humans, and a glimpse of fallen civilizations. The House of History or Tree of History is used to study the history of the planet's rise and fall of civilizations, each acquiring their own technology, their own ethos and their own catastrophe. Through the study of the past, the historians (histroickers) they hope the current civilization will live full and well, though each minor city is far and few between, the land and sea teeming with barbarians and heathens. The quest is epic for the pair and those who ally themselves with the bearers of bad news.

However, as the novel is only 158 pages, the epic quest is quite condensed and each chapter of six or so pages is a splash of action, a peppering of forging ahead, a swath of diversity. When progressing through 28 chapters of this, it's rather tiring and I would have liked to have many of the sections beefed up, each one adding some delicious value to the overall plot. As it is, each ort of a chapter barely sates ones speculative fiction pallet. A quest is a quest, so the inevitable divergences from a smooth plot is an expectation... but it would have been so much better to have seen this novel filled out to 400 pages or even a multi-book series akin to Jack L. Chalker's four-book series The Rings of The Master (1986-1988), which I was strongly reminded of while reading Catch a Falling Star. It's also a little bit like Brunner's own Maze of Stars (1991).

Being a Brunner novel, it carries his knack forportraying bizarre forms of humanity through evolution, mutation or manipulation... but it's not his finest piece, of course. As an astute SF reader it's a certain addition to my Brunner shelf, but perhaps for the more fair-weather reader this might as well just be a pass.

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