Review: Starbound, by Joe Haldeman

This is the sequel to Marsbound, which I reviewed earlier. In this one, our protagonist Carmen heads off on a relativistic sublight trip to a nearby star to meet with the aliens who were behind the machinations of Marsbound.

I was a little disappointed by this one, not so much for the story itself but for some of the mechanics of how it was told. The basic story is that of the journey, i.e. the preparations, the long trip itself, and what happens once we get to the destination. Those aspects were fairly interesting and held my interest, so on the basic point of telling a good story, I’ll give it good marks.

However, while Marsbound was told from the single point of view of Carmen, “the girl from Mars”, Starbound is told from three separate first-person points of view: two human and one Martian. I can see some justification for the choice, but it ended up confusing me frequently. I could get two or three pages into a chapter and not be sure who the current “I” was. It would have been nice if each chapter could have led off with some identification, even if it was something explicit like the character’s name in the chapter heading.

The second mechanical thing that soured the book for me was something of a cheat. Telling the story of a thirteen-year round-trip voyage is hard to do without boring the reader to tears. Yet Haldeman pulled it off for the first three-and-a-half years or so. Then… I don’t know, maybe he ran out of steam. Maybe he just didn’t want to have to do another nine years of it, so he pulled a rabbit out of his hat and made it go away somewhat magically. He went to some length explaining why we wouldn’t understand the real explanation, but it still felt like a cheat.

So, while I enjoyed the tale, I was disappointed by some of the execution. I’ll probably finish off the trilogy, but I’m no longer quite so excited about it as I was after Marsbound.