Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 25 07:07:01 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #42

%T Redshift Rendezvous
%A John E. Stith
%I Berkeley/Ace
%D June 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95 (reviewed in galley)
%P 260
%G 0-441-71145-6

For Jason Karst, the first officer of the hyperspace liner Redshift, things begin to go wrong the night he saves a passenger from suicide. Two days later, she turns up dead -- murdered. And solving a murder mystery has a few extra wrinkles in an environment where lightspeed is ten meters per second and a jogger can easily run past the speed of sound.

That mystery will solve itself all too soon when his ship is hijacked to the retreat planet of Xanahalla by a gang of thieves intent on looting the fabulous riches of the Tower of Worship. If Jason and his ship are to survive he must foil their plans. And, unknown to him, a greater evil out of his own nightmared past waits beneath the Tower...

The Redshift is a wonderful and extremely weird place to set a novel like this; one in which time dilation and other bizarre relativistic effects are visible and important at normal human scale. It is fascinating to watch Stith work out the details and implications of the environment's bizarre physics in the novel, especially in those sections where Karst uses his own superior grasp of them to confound the villains (Stith, delightfully, includes an appendix discussing these in more detail and laying out the equations and figures he used in constructing the Redshift).

With his first two novels (Scapescope and Memory Blank) John Stith staked out an interesting niche somewhere between the hard-SF novel and the thriller writer. Both were solid but minor, the work of a promising apprentice at a very demanding craft.

Redshift Rendezvous aspires to a good bit more than either of Stith's previous SF outings that I've seen, both conceptually and psychologically. It's not the major novel I had hoped for, if only because the universe that gives context to the Redshift and Xanahalla is never made real to the reader as more than a flat stage set, and the characters remain too simple.

All these criticisms aside, though, the book is a damn crackling good read -- better thought out and more exciting than at least 85% of what you'll see on the racks this year. For me it makes Stith's next novel a must-buy; the man is clearly Going Places as an author, and if he isn't quite up there yet with Brin and Niven and Clarke and Moffit and Hogan he's at least within hailing distance and heading in the right direction.

One Chrome-Plated Doohickey with fractal-leaf cluster award to John Stith for Writing a Really Tasty One With Rivets, and my hope that next time he'll set his sights on a really big novel with a rich and fully-realized world in it. Meanwhile, hard-SF and suspense/action fans will have a ball with Redshift Rendezvous -- and maybe some extra fun poking holes in the notional physics.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 25 07:07:01 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>