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Star Dragon

by Mike Brotherton

Published by Tor

Print edition October 1, 2003

Reviewed by Johnette Butler
Review posted 7/24/09

In Star Dragon by Mike Brotherton, we meet Dr. Samuel Fisher – an emotionally stunted exobiologist, Captain Lena Fang – corporate fleet, Dr. Axelrod Henderson – a biosystems engineer with egomaniacal plans to populate a world somewhere with his own humunculi, Dr. Sylvia Devereaux – physical sciences specialist, and Phil Stearn – the ship’s hedonistic Jack of All Trades, as they set off on a journey to capture an new life form (which they have dubbed “Star Dragon”) filmed by a probe in SS Cygni, a dwarf nova cataclysmic binary system 245 light years from earth. The trip will take them almost a year at near-light-speed and 250 years will elapse on earth while they are away. With Fang and Fisher the main characters, the story takes place in an era where humans routinely change their bodies according to need, fashion or fancy (Henderson is the man to see to if one of this crew wants to change his or her body). There’s are descriptions of features of these “bodmods”, but the author’s main attempt to tell us about the science behind it can be found in his description of Sam Fisher’s modification experience:

“In the warm, wet darkness thousands of viruses invaded his system. These were the agents of gene therapy that would inject themselves into his cells, dismantle his DNA at the introns, and insert or replace certain sequences that would govern the cellular operation of his new systems. More sophisticated nanomachinery would reconstruct the macrobiology into the forms he had selected. Still other devices, more sophisticated than viruses and more versatile than the machinery rebuilding his tissues, would isolate and protect his brain functions.”

Parts I through III were tough to get through. Apparently on journeys like this one, the crew are expected to pair up (of course this leaves an odd man out, but Brotherton doesn’t bother to address that), so we are subjected to the awkwardly adolescent (with accompanying tantrums) attempt of Fisher and Fang to achieve personal connection. Meanwhile, the author barely touches on the relationship developing between Devereaux and Stearn, which seems to be growth oriented, more mature, and more interesting. Fang, Fisher and Henderson all seem hell bent on avoiding any semblance of professionalism by wallowing in their own emotional detritus. I found it hard to imagine that such unstable personalities would have been assigned to any important project. The book didn’t really get interesting until the author started seriously talking astrophysics – a field he clearly knows a thing or two about. Had he devoted more of the story to the process of exploring the nature of the star dragons and their “world” instead of dragging us through the agonies of emotionally disturbed so-called professionals, this might be a better book. Mr. Brotherton should either write science fiction or psycho-babble or, if he insists on combining the two, give us characters who we can believe would actually be where these characters are. Locus and liked the book, but I say y’all can skip this one…

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