Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 20, 1997

Firestar by Michael F. Flynn

In attendance: John Gibbons, Cyndi and Wes Dunn, Jeff Rupley; Debbie Hodgkinson came in near the end. This is an ambitious book, and I think a lot of us liked what Flynn was trying to do, but we didn’t think he carried it off very successfully.

The focus on education as necessary to long-term technical advancement as a society was probably the most innovative and potentially interesting part of the book. Everyone liked this element at the beginning, particularly the kids’ reactions to the novel types of testing. But this theme was not as well developed later, and the coincidences of having the entire senior class reconnect in various ways with the Firestar project was just too much. One of the central moral issues in the book is the problem of Mariessa just using the kids to further the goal of the space program; arguably, Flynn does exactly the same thing.

We also liked the sections dealing with the test pilots and the space program down in Brazil. Some people saw some technical problems (particularly with the refueling issues), but there were strong characters, good dramatic action, and a nice evocation of the ethos of being a test pilot.

There were problems with the book. No one liked a central romantic relationship. And the character Berry, who’s supposed to be dedicated to teaching, is never shown interacting with kids. The corporate set-up and subplots also failed to be satisfying or convincing. Would a single family really control such a large and diverse business empire? It seemed more a 19th century model than 21st. Could someone as focused on building a space program as Mariessa really be as successful in building and expanding the corporations as she was portrayed? We never really see her being a business person. She has someone who can provide that detailed an economic forecast to the month? And her corporate vendetta was poorly motivated and implausible.

Apparently this is the first volume of a planned series, which may account for our feeling that a lot of the subplots were left with dangling loose ends. Basically, the book was too long and had too many unnecessary and/or overly coincidental subplots. The space program and the focus on the high school students had the potential to be really good stories, but Flynn wasn’t able to hook them together well in this book. He did give us enough detail and enough serious ideas for us to happily spend more than an hour tearing them apart, but ultimately Heinlein did it better in “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”

— Cyndi Dunn