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Slow Train To Arcturus [Mass Market Paperback]

Eric Flint , Dave Freer

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Book Description

30 Mar 2010
The planet Miran had sent a spaceship to rendezvous with the enormous vessel that was approaching their star system. The vessel's design was odd - a multitude of separate globular habitats in a framework - and most of the alien team that entered one of the habitats were slaughtered by savage creatures called "humans." One alien had barely managed to escape to another habitat where the humans were more friendly, if rather technologically backward. But he needed to get back to his spaceship, and he would need one human's help to do that. They would have to travel through several more habitats, each one isolated from the other, each with its own bizarre dangers and customs. And friendliness toward strangers was not one of those customs...

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Baen Books; 1 Reprint edition (30 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439133484
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439133484
  • Product Dimensions: 17.5 x 11 x 2.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,213,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Authors

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Product Description

About the Author

Eric Flint is a popular star of SF and fantasy. His "1632," which launched the "New York Times" best-selling Ring of Fire series, sold out in hardcover almost immediately, followed by multiple printings in paperback. His first novel for Baen, "Mother of Demons," was picked by "SF Chronicle" as a best novel of the year. He currently resides in northwest Indiana with his wife Lucille. Dave Freer, author of "The Forlorn" and the critically acclaimed "A Mankind Witch" and of many articles in scientific journals, is an expert on sharks and an accomplished rock climber, a wine-taster, a chef and was an unwilling conscript in the "undeclared" South African-Angolan War. With Eric Flint he has co-authored "Rats, Bats & Vats," "The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly," "Pyramid Power" and "Pyramid Scheme." He has also collaborated with Mercedes Lackey and Eric Flint in a sweeping alternate history-fantasy set in the Renaissance. The first two books in the series, "The Shadow of the Lion" and "This" "Rough" "Magic" have been enthusiastically received by critics and readers. The trio have also produced a sequel to James H Schmitz's classic "The Witches of Karres," "The Wizard of Karres." Freer lives in KwaZulu, with his wife Barbara, two sons, and far too many dogs and cats.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative, Relevant Story In the Tradition of Classic Sci-Fi 21 Nov 2008
By M. Williams - Published on
The short version: A ripping yarn with big social ideas about the need for society to be big enough to value those at its frontiers and for those on the edge to lend their experiences worth by passing them on for others' benefit. I would buy this for a tween/teen or older without hesitation.

The long version: This is very much its own book, though it would be easy to compare this to a number of other works. Imagine "The Wizard of Oz" as written by J. Michael Straczynski or "The Canterbury Tales" as written by Isaac Asimov. Such comparisons can be drawn for the simple reason that "Slow Train to Arcturus" takes a classic narrative form, the physical journey that produces and represents an emotional and intellectual evolution, and sets it down as a science fiction tale with a couple of very interesting twists. It has plenty of leg to stand on as its own tale, however.

The plot itself is a ripping yarn that gets off to an engaging start by being told entirely from the perspective of an alien scientist for the first few chapters. We are given just enough introduction to the alien species whose encounter with humanity frames the story that we feel we can trust the narrator's take on the situation and are comfortable with their intent. The alien species is compellingly written, very human in their ambitions and their better natures but sufficiently different to inspire curiosity and a little wonder. They are an example of the very best of classic science fiction alien life: just different enough to be weird, and for much of the story its through their eyes that we see events and the reader has to parse their descriptions of things. Later narration spins out to a more omniscient third person but alien views of humanity are used to good effect as proxies for the ways we humans find one another to be alien.

I won't discuss the plot, for fear of spoilers, except to say that the events of the book provide its authors with ample opportunities to create and describe complex new settings which they do with relish. They show time and again that they've put real thought, creative and logical, into the settings they describe. Elements of "hard" sci-fi pop up throughout but always as ways to enable the story rather than as barriers in its path.

To be honest, despite all this praise, for most of my first reading my reactions were critical. Up until the very end I thought I had predicted the ultimate outcome perfectly only to find that I had not. I thought I had figured out the politics of the story and I had not. I thought I had seen all these characters before but kept being surprised by little things they did until the resolution, though natural, was in fact not something I had predicted at the beginning.

Eventually I realized why I kept feeling like I had failed to click with it: I had come at it from the wrong angle. This is written in the classic, politics-on-its-sleeve style of the science fiction of a generation or two ago, where the social messages are big enough to have corners and are not going to be neatly sublimated or softened. The messages are the same progressive, tolerant, classically liberal themes of, again, "Babylon 5" or Star Trek. In fact, the conclusion of the novel made me think instantly of some of the themes of Asimov's "The Stars, Like Dust," a personal favorite.

Those themes are, in short, that life takes all kinds and we all need and benefit from that; isolation and uniformity lead to decay, fear and tyranny. This isn't the chatty science fiction of sleek kids bathed in the glow of a monitor. Rather, it's a story about people who get up and run around and create lively messes and spread big ideas and have adventures. It's science fiction that values action as well as thought. Highly recommended for anyone who has a soft spot for the strong, clever hero or heroine unfazed by long odds and many foes.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Motley Crew 5 Sep 2008
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on
Slow Train to Arcturus (2008) is a standalone SF novel. The story is set in the mid-future over five centuries from now. The ship/habitat was launched in 2153, but the interception by Miran aliens took place in deep space about four centuries later.

In this novel, the Mirans detect an alien spacecraft approaching their sun at a velocity of 0.3 lightspeed. Checking their archives, they discover two centuries of data on the alien vessel. They decide to investigate the object more closely.

Mirans are generally claustrophobic and hate crowds. Since the spaceship is small and crowded, the crew were chosen for their relative comfort in such conditions. Moreover, Mirans start life as males and eventually transform to sessile females. Since they are larger and more experienced than the males, the females rule Miran society. All the crew are taking drugs to remain male.

The Mirans rendezvous with the alien vessel after a voyage of six years and over a distance of 1.8 lightyears from their home sun. Most of the crew were in drugged suspension for the trip. As they neared the alien vessel, the sleeping crew are awakened.

Kretz is the xenobiologist and engineer in the crew. Nobody thinks that a biologist will be necessary since the alien vessel is obviously a probe. Yet Kretz is among the crew because they can't go back to get anything they forgot.

Selna is the ship physician. He is close to changeover to a female. The drugs are just barely keeping him male.

Zawn is the archaeologist and leader of the crew. He should have a field day with the alien object.

Arbet is the deepspace radiation expert and pilot. He has been awake during the whole six years studying deepspace emissions.

Derfel is a generalist, a jack of all trades. He has several fields of expertise. He is the most abnormal of the misfit crew, actually liking crowds and small spaces.

In this story, Kretz awakes still groggy from the drugs. Zawn is already awake and viewing instruments on the science deck. Kretz joins him there and Selna gives him a vile-tasting high-energy drink to speed his recovery.

The alien spacecraft is obviously not just a probe. It has engines and a working fusion reactor as well as atmospheric replenishments. It is composed of spherical objects like beads on a string. Moreover, it has airlocks.

Zawn and Kretz discuss who will enter the alien vessel. They decide that they will both go and that Arbet will accompany them. Their ship maneuvers behind the last bead on the string and links up to the rearmost airlock.

When they enter the vessel, they find it contains many tunnels lined with lights, pipes and plants. They also find living aliens. After a bad start, relations seem to improve. Their translator computers are beginning to understand the alien language.

On the next visit, the stripe-faced strangers invite the whole crew to come to a banquet. Unfortunately, the Mirans seem destined to be the main course. The aliens throw flame at the Mirans and Selna draws a laser pistol and shoots at the aliens. The aliens shoot back with projectile weapons and then kick his body as he lies limp on the floor.

Kretz flees from the aliens. Since they are between him and the airlock, he heads deeper into the node. The aliens chase him with bloodthirsty cries.

Eventually, Kretz finds a way into the next node and is found by another alien. This one is not stripe-faced, but is rather large. The alien takes Kretz home and treats his injuries.

In this story, Arbet and Derfel take the lander to the sixth from the end node to investigate the apparently working laser communicator there. After they record the communicator operations, Derfel draws his laser pistol and forces Arbet to cycle through the nearby airlock. Derfel wants to be famous, but was not been chosen to visit the aliens in the previous visits. Now is his chance for fame.

Within the alien node, Derfel and Arbet are greeted as gods (or at least royalty). The aliens bow down to the Mirans and then carry them to a massive structure. After confrontations with other aliens, the populace carries them within the building and places Derfel on a throne.

This tale is quite unusual. The interstellar train concept has been used before (see The Celestial Steam Locomotive and Pandora's Star), but not at this level of hard science and detail. The use of this vessel to carry restless groups off Terra is definitely not new, but again the details are astounding. Supplemental inserts of documents about development of the slowtrain are quite interesting.

Note: the above dates are Terran, but the times are probably Miran local measures. While the speed of light is -- relatively speaking -- constant in space, the length of a year (and a century) varies depending upon the orbital parameters of the home planet. So, what does 1.8 lightyears mean to a Miran?

The story is a satire of the human condition. It pokes fun at various social concepts -- both modern and medieval -- through the eyes of confused Mirans. Sort of an SF version of Candide. Enjoy!

Highly recommended for Flint & Freer fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of deepspace adventures, alien contacts, and human foibles.

-Arthur W. Jordin
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pilgrim Takes a Slow Train 28 Sep 2008
By Walt Boyes - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dave Freer and Eric Flint have taken an interesting idea and used it to ring changes on Pilgrim's Progress. Imagine a starship made up of linked but not easily interconnected habitats in which many small utopian societies have created their cultures while traveling to the planets that will be their ultimate homes. Imagine some of those cultures breaking down, and then inject a set of aliens who come visiting. Now visualize all of this with Freer and Flint's patented twisted sense of humor, from collaborations like Pyramid Scheme. You'll like this book.

Walt Boyes
Associate Editor
Jim Baen's Universe
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Read from Dave Freer 30 Sep 2008
By G. Tansey - Published on
Dave Freer comes up with a novel idea in this new book; combining several old SF tropes into one concept. Once again, this is character driven SF, with a hard science background and plenty of good dialogue.

Anyone who likes to read will enjoy this book, and if you already know Dave's work, you'll really like it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent novel from Flint & Freer 1 Oct 2008
By Brian A. Williams - Published on
Once again, Dave Freer and Eric Flint come up with a fun new take on an old SF concept - in this case, slower-than-light colony ships, with a first contact with aliens thrown in for good measure. Slow Train uses a few different perspectives to explore what happens when aliens come to investigate a giant colony ship traveling through their solar system on the way towards its destination, and shake up the inhabitants from their various societies that have formed along the way. It's a lot of fun to read, and hard to put down once you've started. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story.
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