In his excellent novel The Wreck of The River of Stars, Michael Flynn looks back on the romantic Age of Sail: the second, high-tech Age of Sail, when spaceships with vast magnetic sails rode the solar winds across the immense ocean of space, and the greatest of the luxury spaceliners was The River of Stars. But the second Age of Sail is dead: the magnetic sails all were struck, and the spaceships all were retrofitted with the new Farnsworth fusion drive. Once a legend, The River of Stars is now a tramp cargo freighter, plying the outer planets with a scanty crew of men and women with questionable pasts, private agendas, and more than a little interpersonal friction.|
When a bizarre failure disables the Farnsworth engines driving The River of Stars, the crew has a problem no Earthly sailor ever faced: their ports don't stay put. If The River of Stars doesn't arrive on schedule, Jupiter will be somewhere else in its enormous orbit. That means the damaged ship will speed out of the solar system and drift forever among the stars. The crew's only hope appears to be the magnetic sail. But recreating a long-gone high-tech sail isn't the worst problem this motley crew faces. To survive, they must achieve something even more herculean: they must overcome their own intricately entangled fears, hatreds, power struggles, and romantic disasters.
Source: Cynthia Ward, Amazon.com.
Michael Flynn has written the best SF in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein of the last decade. His major work was the Firestar sequence, a four-book future history. "As Robert A. Heinlein did and all too few have done since, Michael Flynn writes about the near future as if he'd been there and was bringing back reports of what he'd seen," said Harry Turtledove. Now, in this sweeping stand-alone epic of the spaceways, Flynn grows again in stature, with an SF novel worthy of the master himself. Indeed, if Heinlein's famous character, the space-faring poet Rhysling, had ever written a novel, this would be it.
This is a compelling tale of the glory that was. In the days of the great sailing ships, in the mid-twenty-first century, when magnetic sails drew cargo and passengers alike to every corner of the solar system, sailors had the highest status of all spacemen, and the crew of the luxury liner the River of Stars, the highest among all sailors.
But development of the Farnsworth fusion drive doomed the sailing ships, and now the River of Stars is the last of its kind, retrofitted with engines, her mast vestigial, her sails unraised for years. An ungainly hybrid, she operates in the late years of the century as a mere tramp freighter among the outer planets, and her crew is a motley group of misfits. Stepan Gorgas is the escapist executive officer who becomes captain. Ramakrishnan Bhatterji is the chief engineer who disdains him. Eugenie Satterwaithe, once a captain herself, is third officer and, for form's sake, sailing master.
When an unlikely and catastrophic engine failure strikes the River, Bhatterji is confident he can effect repairs with heroic engineering, but Satterwaithe and the other sailors among the crew plot to save her with a glorious last gasp for the old ways, mesmerized by a vision of arriving at Jupiter proudly under sail. The story of their doom has the power, the poetry, and the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. This is a great science fiction novel, Flynn's best yet.