It just sounds like an awesome book, the River of Stars being the name of a (space) sailing ship. I know someone who refuses to the read the acknowledgements before reading the book, on point of principle, which I always thought was a little dramatic. Maybe the author mentions his/her love for someone completely awful, but how often can that happen? Now I'm thinking maybe that person has a point, because in the acknowledgements I read that the author first had the idea for this story after learning about (view spoiler) the Myers-Briggs personality test. So the whole book is this set-up where you've got the characters (and you can guess how many there are, if you ever had to do M-B in a management retreat, although two of them are off-stage for the most part) and you can just feel the little charts and grids the author must have crafted to set up EVERY SINGLE INTERPERSONAL INTERACTION in the book.
I started reading "The Wreck of the River of Stars" because someone on Amazon said it read like Jane Austen and that intrigued me. There are so many ghosts in this book, from all the captains of The River of Stars to the previous engineer who never it made to the ship after an EVA to the ship's artificial intelligence seemingly on the brink of self awareness. And I've always had a fascination with sea stories that almost end in tragedy because good people fail to communicate, such as "The Caine Mutiny," or where obsession leads inexorably to tragedy, like "Moby Dick." In Flynn's book, the now first officer 'Abd al-Aziz Corrigan begins the tragedy when he thinks to use some of the long stowed solar sails to buy time until the Farnsworth engines can be repaired, but then Satterthwaite and cargo master Moth Ratline complicate matters when they suggest bringing the ship safely to port under full sail. And they carry their plans out in secret, not telling acting captain Gorgas who is too lost in memories of his lost wife and his lost career and drowning his sorrows not in drink but in endlessly replaying historical battles with the ship's artificial intelligence. It almost makes you believe that any group of people can't help but fail in any endeavour, especially when you realize the roots of the tragedy can be traced all the way back to the dead captain Hand, who brought together a crew of damaged souls but like a king who fails to plan for his succession, fails them by dying.
The River of Stars has long ago furled its magnetic sail in favor of a more modern engine. Her crew want to use the sail to save the ship in a last tribute to her old days of glory. Long gone are the glory days of The River of Stars, and her crew is made up of a collection of misfits and losers who cannot find another berth.
I'll admit that in the beginning of the book the character analysis almost gets in the way of the story.
I then went backwards, into Flynn's Firestar quartet; four sequential novels illustrating how one woman with a great deal of money (and a severe phobia of asteroid impacts), can seed an entire generation of high school students with the inspiration to reach for the stars, as well as the education to get there. Flynn followed this series with The Wreck Of The River Of Stars, set decades after the Firestar protagonists have established the interplanetary trade. Once glorious, The River of Stars is now a lowly tramp freighter, her sails stowed, her passenger decks largely mothballed, and her sleek beauty marred by a quartet of retrofitted fusion motors. Depending largely on gravitational largesse to make its rendezvous with Jupiter, the ship needs at least three working engines to avoid missing port, and flying out into the eternal darkness. There are other crew, and other equally fascinating stories, aboard The River of Stars, and each has a vital part to play in the making of an avoidable disaster.
And while that's one way to tell a story, author Michael Flynn decides on a different tactic, crafting a story in such a way as to make you look at the characters and go, "Geez, I'm awful glad I'm not these people." Its not that they're bad people, they're just on the wrong ship at the wrong time making the wrong decisions at the wrong moments, all at once, existing in a novel called "The Wreck of the River of Stars" and not "The Unexpected Last Second Heroic Salvation of the River of Stars". Its very much an ensemble cast without much in the way of standouts and until the actual plot starts to accelerate like a barrel heading for a waterfall you're stuck learning about the workings of a future spaceship as various characters reminisce about when the ship was more important or prestigious back in the good old days when it had sails everywhere. And much like the beloved Canadian folk singer's seven minute epic, Flynn appears to be in for the long payoff, layering character developments and motivations while taking his sweet time in doing so in the hopes that people will stick around long enough to see the culmination. Members of the crew from the glory days start to plot using the ship's sails instead without telling anyone else. Not so much about the characters, although one or two odd ones here and there tug at our sympathies, but as it becomes clearer that almost none of these people seem fated to survive the novel engenders this weird fascination as you wait to see what the final straw is going to be for their hopes. Once events have accumulated enough weight to make it clear that the book title isn't being ironic things start to pick up and all the sea chickens come home to their roosts the book develops a car crash aspect to it as you watch people who were very confident that not only survival but glorious victory was in their grasps not only come to terms with the idea of utter futility but also the reality that they tied their own ropes around their necks in the process. Flynn pulls it off and while I was skeptical when starting the book he does eventually justify almost every narrative and structural decision he's made when crafting the novel.
The fact that the title of the book starts with "The wreck" gives you the storyline in that you know the direction of the plot and that there is a disaster coming. The crew of The River of Stars are a hodge podge of people who like the ship have fallen on hard times.
Michael Francis Flynn (born 1947) is an American statistician and science fiction author.