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 the 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 vestigal, 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 distains 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 gasp for the old ways, mesmerized by a vision of arriving at Jupiter proudly under sail. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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April 01, 2003
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Excerpt from The Wreck of The River of Stars by Michael Flynn
Prelude: The Ship
They called her The River of Stars and she spread her superconducting sails to the solar wind in 2051. She must have made a glorious sight then: her fuselage new and gleaming, her sails shimmering in a rainbow aurora, her white-gloved crew sharply creased in black-and-silver uniforms, her passengers rich and deliciously decadent. There were morphy stars and jeweled matriarchs, sports heroes and prostitutes, gangsters and geeks and soi-disant royalty. Those were the glamour years, when magsails ruled the skies, and The River of Stars was the grandest and most glorious of that beautiful fleet.
But the glory years faded fast. Coltraine was still her captain when the luxury trade dried up and the throngs of the rich and famous slowed from a torrent to a trickle, and even those who still craved the experience could see that it was no longer the fashionable thing to do. But as he told Toledo when he handed her the command, the luxury trade had been doomed from the start. Sex and vice and decadence were more safely found earthside. There were yet honorable -- if more quotidian -- pursuits for a ship with such wings to her.
Mars was the happening place back then. Adventurers, sand-kings, ne'er-do-wells, terraformers, second sons, bawdy girls, and zeppelin pilots -- Mars sucked them in, broke some and spat others out. Even crewmembers would sometimes cash out on reaching Mars and head for the gaudy enticements of Port Rosario. "Some of them struck it rich," the old song had it,
"And some of them Mars struck dead
And some showed up in the hiring hall,
Begging their old berths back."
Toledo and, later, Johnson and Fu-hsi carried hopes outbound and the shattered fragments back. There was a raw energy to the age that tired old Earth hadn't seen since the taming of LEO during the Terrible Teens, and The River took greater pride in pushing the frontier out than she ever had in stroking the rich and famous.
It was the Farnsworth engine that finally brought her low. Fu-hsi saw it coming and resigned, the only one of her captains ever to do so; and so it fell to Terranova to see the once proud vessel humiliated. Magnetic sails had ruled space for forty years, and The River of Stars for almost twenty of them, but Farnsworth engines made the Jovian moons the new frontier. The Luna-Ganymede Race went down in history, and the magnetic sail went down to the fusion thruster. Terranova should never have taken the bet; but it was a matter of pride -- and pride loves loss above surrender.