TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS
The space opera is one of those science fiction subgenres that can be mixed with many other genres and topics successfully. Thriller, politics, science, biology, adventures, war and many other topics have been mixed with space opera along the history creating a wide range of works very different one to each other.
While I was reading To Sleep in a Sea of Stars it was more and more clear for me that Paolini has actually tried to review most, if not all, the topics ever been included in a space opera. I can imagine himself writing these in a notepad and, hey, nine hundred pages came up after ten years of work. Let summarize what can be found in his new book.
The novel is set in a not extremely far future, mid-23rd century. Kira, a xenobiologist, is exploring some ruins in a moon called Adrasteia. When she and her team are returning to the main spaceship she decides to take a look at something she has seen, ending up in an ancient structure not being explored so far. In this place she touches a pedestal covered in dust that wakes up some kind of black alive material that covers her whole body. This new skin is capable, among other things she will need to learn on the way, of creating forms to defend the host from any external threat, something she will need to learn to live with. This skin also causes the appearance of a so far unknown alien species who are very interested on such skin.
I said that To Sleep in a Sea of Stars has almost everything that can be found in the space opera as a genre. The skin that wraps Kira allows Paolini to create a first contact story, including a whole new language and specie. To control such skin Kira will need to practice during most of the novel, in a way that reminds of the classical fantasy novels where a character needs to learn about a new power. The main character is a xenobiologist worried about some biological aspects of relation between humans and aliens, in addition to the analysis of what the skin is built with.
There are also some politics involved in the novel. It’s being a long time since the Earth lived the best of its time, and humankind is still expanding their territories forming new governments and hierarchies. All of them want to be part of the decisions that Kira will make as they can put humanity at risk.
The first third on the novel is a fast-paced action packed story where we will start knowing about this new alien species at the same time as Kira. Honestly, I could not stop reading for the first 30% of the book. I also got familiarise with the way Paolini is telling the story: a third person view but fully focused in Kira. Just Kira for nine hundred pages. This has some downsides. In these first hundreds of pages I have already missed some other points of view as many secondary characters will be left apart forever in the book and I felt that something else could’ve been told. I mean, you get used to that within the reading, but I felt that I am missing some parts of the motivations that build Kira personality and decision making.
Once this first part of the story is done, Paolini transforms the story into a journey through space. In the Wallfish, the spaceship, we meet many other crew and passenger that will accompany Kira on her faster than light travel. Not just physical people but also the spaceship AI, which is an interesting part where we can get more knowledge about Kira and the aliens thanks to the conversations between both. However, I have to say that this second third of the book was for me the most boring part of the reading. Not many things happen and felt it was too long.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a long but auto conclusive book. The ending is great and kept me reading until the very end. The VERY end. There are some great action scenes and interesting revelations. There are couple of things that Paolini can write more about in a potential future novel but the plot itself is fairly close.
I haven’t talked so far about Paolini and the relation between To Sleep in a Sea of Stars and the fantasy series that made him well-known worldwide. The reason is because I haven’t read those series! In the notes at the end of the book the author himself talks about some references in this books to the previous but I can’t say anything else as this is my first Paolini. In the same notes, the author discusses about the work to write this book and decisions made during the ten years of work writing it. It is very interesting even if you are not reading this book to see how he planned himself and what was the evolution of a book as long as this. Also about the planning, including the various maps in the book that help a lot during the first few hours of reading.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a long novel that sometimes feel like that as well. One of the reasons might be the decision on the point of view and the already mentioned fact that I felt I was missing something else. Other reason might be because of a boring second third of the book but this feeling might be a consequence of the first reason.
At the same time the story in To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a very entertaining novel. Including lots of different space opera topics that surprises the reader during the reading. Don’t forget to read the final appendix as well, which explains lot of the science behind the novel, very compelling. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a long reading, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes a bit boring, and with a feel of a screen adaptation that I wouldn’t be surprised if it is announced shortly.