First English translation of the celebrated Golden Age Science Fiction Classic.
“This stunning classic stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein.” – New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
Tankar Holroy, Lieutenant in the Stellar Guard of earth’s Empire, floats in space after his spaceship is sabotaged. Rescued by an enormous, unknown ship, he awakes to discover himself saved by the People of the Stars who are born and live in space with minimal contact with planets and their occupants whom they call, with contempt, planetaries.
The chilly welcome he receives from the ship’s leader, the Teknor, is followed by overt hostility from the other inhabitants of the Tilsin. Only a woman named Orena reaches out to him.
Tankar soon realizes that he was rescued for his knowledge of tracers, the technology that allows Empire ships to track others through hyperspace, a technology the People of the Stars lack. Out of spite, he refuses to deliver the one piece of knowledge that can protect the people who saved but now spurn him – and the consequences will be catastrophic.
The City Among the Stars will be released May 21, 2020. Preorder now!
Tankar struggled to comprehend their nomadic way of life. “And you can live this way, without roots?”
“Not only can we, we wouldn’t want to live any other way!” exclaimed Orena.
I wanted to get angry at this book. Like really angry. But quickly into this, I realized that I did not want this book to have that much of an effect on my life. And it doesn’t have much effect elsewhere, either. This was written decades ago, in the 1960s I believe, and is only now getting translated. The author has been dead for nearly forty years. This book does not matter anymore. It is best to treat it as a product of its time. I will forget about it in a week.
The City Among the Stars had some cool concepts that I would actually like to see more of in a more modern work. It is just too bad that the good is mired down by all the bad. At times I found myself interested in spite of myself. Interested, that is, until it once again brought out one of the weirdly…bad parts.
The main character, Tankar Holroy, is from Earth. A chivalric Earth where we never really got past the whole Medieval, peasant/noble, knights in armour thing – even if they have reached into the stars. And that system is falling apart, just as Tankar’s spaceship is sabotaged. Leaving him to be picked up by a group of humans, the People Among the Stars, who are space nomads and broke away from the Empire due to the Empire’s oppressive nature and the dislike of science.
The People Among the Stars holds a grudge against the Empire because of the way they were treated, and the war waged on them just as they were getting their cities started at the dawn of their civilization. Something Tankar has no knowledge of, just like he had no clue there were other humans in space. The Nomads also have an alien enemy, the Mpfifis, who just seek out and destroy humans when they can. Tankar has been asked to give Earth technology to the Nomads that will help track the Mpfifis. Tankar refuses, because he is self-absorbed and can’t see past the end of his nose. Until Tankar doesn’t refuse – for inexplicable reasons.
See, this entire book is a bit like a minefield. I really enjoyed the concept, and I would probably read something similar with a more modern author. I just had so many problems with the book. Ignoring the fact that the writing was just unpleasant to read, the book was just confusing. I’m not blaming the translators – I’m sure they did a fine job. It’s just the style of the time Carsac was writing that I dislike. Tankar made the most random leaps of logic. It was like if someone asked you why the sky is blue and you say “because the ocean is”. You’re not completely wrong but dang you had to leap a few bits of logic to get there. And at several points changed his mind in the space of two paragraphs. I felt like I had whiplash at points. I’m still not certain how he talked himself into loving one of the love interests.
From this point on it is not going to be spoiler free. I try to keep my reviews without spoilers, but it is impossible to really speak to the issues I had without telling a lot of the story.
There were bigger problems than the writing. There was the bigotry and discrimination Tankar faced the entire time, just because he was from a planet. Which in itself wasn’t too bad. It made sense, and it is what drove part of the story – their hatred and treatment of Tankar made him hate them enough that he didn’t care if they lived or died and kept technology they needed from them. It just felt so shallow for most of the time. It was there, and things happened with it, but the ways it was used just never felt full. These two quotes are a good explanation for why I felt it was shallow:
“You don’t like planetaries?”
“Who does?” She shrugged. “They forced our ancestors into exile. It ended up being a good thing, but it wasn’t well intentioned.”
“How am I responsible for the behavior of my ancestors? I don’t think mine were even involved.”
“We are the products of our worlds, Tankar.”
And then there was, of course, the way women are treated. It’s a really bizarre mixture of trying to be progressive and then failing completely. For one, everything Tankar does is in response to a woman. And typically he is blaming one of them for something or another. He thinks he is being accepted? Woman. He gets tricked? Woman. He gets tricked again? Another woman, but he blames the first that tricked him. He finally decides to do the right thing? Woman. He gets, in his mind, double crossed and so he sulks and doesn’t do the right thing anyway? Woman responsible for the sulking. And then another woman he likes dies pushing him to the do the right thing in the end.
Yeah, that’s right. Fridging. Marvelous.
That isn’t even the half of it. The women always seem in competition for his affections. All of them like him for no discernable reason. And the jealousy meter is crazy – at one point a woman left just because he talked to another woman that he, at the time, hated.
“Pfft. I’m an advantist, and she’s a conservative. And anyway, how many times have you met two attractive women who like each other?”
And Tankar would beat himself up every time a woman got the better of him. In any way at all. It was just boring. Blame yourself, dude, that is who you should be blaming.
He paced, drunk with rage and shame. How could he, a lieutenant of the Stellar Guard, have allowed her to toy with him? He looked for harsh enough words to describe her – treacherous and manipulative bitch. The rules of the Guards were wise: women were to be used for pleasure and to incubate future Guards.
Now he was driven by one wish and one wish only: revenge. He would love to batter her lovely lips with his fists, smash her lying mouth, but even that was not enough. Did he want to kill her? Should he challenge her to a duel? He was not sure that he, as a man, could do that.”
Then there are the stupid duels. Why was so much of this book focused on duels?? As soon as he gets on the ship, he nearly sparks a duel. At another time, one of the three love interests tries to use a duel to kill him – and he blames another love interest for setting him up (falsely). And Carsac is trying to play Tancar off as this soldier among non soldiers, and he has all the answers to fight off this alien threat – only these hobbyists are almost able to get the better of him? And I’m supposed to believe in Tankar? Please. And the Nomads even have the audacity that the reason they have freedom is because they have duels. Like, what?
Like the idiotic duels, which no true man should take part in. If the point is to show bravery, there are far better ways.”
“You really don’t understand, do you? We all take personal responsibility for our actions, and that’s the basis of our freedom.”
There are so many other things that annoyed me. Like the main character, who is just incredibly unlikable with no redeeming qualities. And the half-baked religious ideas that do really weird, squirrely things to the plot. Also the fact that every time a character told Tankar something about himself or others, he would say the opposite. Which we as the readers agree with because up until that time what Tankar is saying is true – and then the entire book would rewrites itself to the reality of the thing that secondary character said. Just to prove him wrong I guess?
This was just a frustrating read. There were moments I was enjoying myself, but the book typically ended that pretty quick. I think I would enjoy this a lot more if I read, and liked, more golden age sci-fi. I’ve mostly not read it, and I wasn’t even aware that this was from the 1960s when I requested the ARC (I should have looked into this better – the interesting story in the blurb got to me and I wanted it). The City Among the Stars tried to do a lot of things: be a character study, analyze (the then) current events into something understandable, and even at one point tried to be philosophical. It all fell flat to me. I ended up finishing this because I found the way the tropes have changed over time to be mildly interesting and I read it for inspiration for my Trope Time posts.
Technically this is part of a series. I won’t be reading the rest if they get translated. The only thing really to do with future books is finish up the threat against the Mpfifis. And I don’t care about them because the author never made me care about them – either as an alien race or a threat.
ARC received from Flame Tree Press on Netgalley. This did not affect my review.