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Carlos Yu's review of Through Struggle, the Stars
james_nicoll

Through Struggle, the Stars
A Human Reach Novel
By John J. Lumpkin
Copyright 2011 John J. Lumpkin
Smashwords Edition



The important things out of the way first: Through Struggle, the Stars
is a solid, readable first novel. I would read this novel’s sequel,
and I would consider reading an unrelated novel by this author. It’s
well-paced and has moments of genuine dramatic tension, a B in a world
without grade inflation.

Through Struggle, the Stars is military science fiction without being
military pulp science fiction. It’s not a dumb adventure novel of the
kind where your IQ points are used for target practice by the writer,
and it doesn’t read like someone else’s fetish porn. Quite frankly,
this is probably why it hasn’t found a publisher yet. The story is
jingo-neutral, or close to it.

Lumpkin has put some thought into each of his set pieces and how they
fit into the overall plot of the book. The space combat is realistic
in that ships radiate energy like real physical objects, they move
with very low accelerations, and they are very vulnerable to
hypervelocity impacts. Lasers in space and as a form of artillery have
important roles. Lumpkin abides by the constraints of his imaginary
wormhole technology, and he uses the local stellar neighborhood as his
playground. It’s not totally rigorous, but he’s put in some work.

There is a nagging problem with inconsistency in the setting, however.
I’m not sure whether this would be picked up by the general science
fiction reader, should such a person exist, but it jarred me. Simply
put, the timescales are off. A social setting that would not be a bad
extrapolation of today’s demographics in 2050 is given a date of 2139.
Future institutions are immediately recognizable. Technological
progress outside of the space applications sector has moved very, very
slowly—there are no flashy advances in automation or genetic
engineering, for example. Despite Japan becoming a major power once
again through its first mover advantage in space technology, economic
convergence between the richer nations and the poorer nations has
stopped. At the same time, interstellar colonies on previously barely
habitable worlds somehow have reached populations in the millions and
have been settled for decades, and there is significant commerce. Many
nations have colonies.

This mismatch in timescales is a shame, because each part of Lumpkin’s
universe feels realistic enough. If anything, his setting feels a
little too contemporary—a scene involving a Mercedes and a brawl in a
casino parking lot comes to mind.

The politics of colonization motivate the background of the plot—true
terra nullius, there are no aliens so far in this setting. There is a
worldwide belief in the necessity of developing colonies off-Earth to
maintain cultural and biological survival due to the horrible effects
of a near-future asteroid impact. This belief has merged with a
resurgent nationalism. Policymakers also believe that wars between
superpowers can escalate incrementally, perhaps because of the
excellent defensive countermeasures in this setting, but I wonder if
Lumpkin has in the back of his mind what happens when the conditions
for deterrence through mutually assured destruction no longer apply.

The characterization in Through Struggle, the Stars was, for want of a
better word, adequate. The soldiers are more fully realized than the
intelligence agents. I didn’t believe in the motivations of the two
principal Chinese agents, but it wasn’t because of “characterization
through ethnic stereotype,” and they are presented as outliers. People
die, and I am pretty sure that Lumpkin has read Tobias Wolff’s short
story, “Bullet in the Brain.” (Go read it. It’s short.)

Through Struggle, the Stars is an emotionally cool book. It lacks some
of the quirky outsider energy of classic science fiction, but it also
lacks the same undercurrents of dogmatism and score-settling. This
book is not about saving the world with a single grand gesture, or
flipping the table over to reveal the rot underneath; it’s about
conflicted people in the military and the intelligence services at a
particular point in geopolitical history. I enjoyed how the Big Secret
turned out not to have very much effect, although it is conceptually
important.

I’m more than happy to answer any questions.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

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Okay, I can't take it anymore:

Has the author inherited ear-wiggling powers?

You know, for all the razzing I get for my last name, this one at least shows some geek cultural awareness.

Oops.

Oh hell.

It is not my intention to give a fellow SF author crap. I hope I haven't given offense. I have this goddamn junkyard of a memory, and poor filtration.

Oh, no offense taken! I got a laugh.

Should I know who Carlos Yu is?

Coyu, long time participant in discussions here and elsewhere.

I claim my five pounds.

Heh. Do you just automatically say that every time you don't recognize a name?

There are very few things I automatically say. I googled, I tried to figure out who it was, and I could not. So I asked.

And I asked because your reply sounded dismissive rather than inquisitive; calling Carlos "it" sounds similarly dismissive, for what it's worth.

To clarify, I was referring to "I tried to figure out who it was." (Emphasis mine.)

but "who it was" is a standard construction, not a special go-out-of-the-way to betilltle the person you're asking about.

I didn't say anyone made a "special go-out-of-the-way" effort to belittle anyone.

The wording struck me as odd and a bit rude. "Should I know who he is," is phrasing frequently used as a backhanded jab at implying irrelevance. I didn't think it was intentional, but even after kithrup had been told who Carlos was, s/he still used the depersonalizing pronoun "it." It left me scratching my head, is all.

Well, the passage in question was retrospective, describing kithrup's mental state at a time before the question of Carlos Yu's identity had been answered.

No, what I'm saying is that the pronoun it is standard in that construction, and not especially depersonalizing. When someone knocks on the door, you call out "Who is it?" When a teacher asks a question in a classroom, they say "Who was it that discovered phosphorous?" When families pass around old photos, someone holds up one and says "Does anybody know who it is?"

That's what I mean. I should have expeanded to be clearer in the first place, sorry.

"Who is it?" I'll grant, but generally I hear "Who discovered phosphorous" and "Does anybody know who this is?" (except for answering the door/phone, as in the aforementioned "Who is it"). The sentences as you wrote them sound very clunky to my ears. I know "it" is a pronoun (he/she/it), but I can't think of many common examples where I hear "it" used for people regularly.

This came up on Twitter recently, using "that" as in "The person that said" versus "The person who said," so it was already on my mind.

Given Carlos' comment above, I gather this all sounds like I was defending Carlos, which wasn't my intent.

This thread is a good example of why flame wars are so easy to start.

Phosphorus (or, at least, certain allotropes) IS pyrophoric...

BTW:

"The discovery of phosphorus is credited to the German alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669, although other chemists might have discovered phosphorus around the same time."

Edited at 2013-01-07 07:29 pm (UTC)

I'm intrigued. Where can I get this book?

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