Review: The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth

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Note: This splendid novel is just 99c until June 30 at all outlets.

World-building at its best!

THE STARK DIVIDE by J. Scott Coatsworth is the first of his projected Liminal Sky series. This lead-off novel is really a three-part story of humanity’s re-birth—a splendid piece of fiction in which mankind both invents and is at the mercy of an artificial mind, as old Earth is self-imploding in a brutal global war. In brief, mankind is planning to make a 200-year voyage to a new home planet, whose heart and soul is to be a growing “seedling mind,” an AI whose huge potential can only be guessed.

I cannot begin to describe the lush detail, the mind-blowing invention, the beauty and uniqueness of Coatsworth’s world. Every paragraph is rich and delicious as red velvet cake, hard and believable as “Ship’s Bone.” From the interplanetary ships that eat and breathe solar wind and space dust…to the Dragons Reach mountains and the Far Hold… this world unfolds with infinite variety. The central character in this first novel, Colin McAvery, is the hub; but every other character is well developed as we follow them and their progeny through the novel.

Part 1 of the novel is gripping. Three people in a tiny ship are speeding their way to a space station/asteroid called Ariadne, towing a man-sized “seed” which will become the crux of the station. The station itself will eventually become a Noah’s ark to the stars. They carry with them a ship-mind, presently small enough to hold like a child.

But something goes horribly wrong. The ship with its “living walls” begins to hemorrhage, stricken by an unknown virus. The three passengers must use every ounce of their wits and teamwork to save…no, not themselves…to save the ship-mind so it can reach Ariadne. And not everyone can survive this first test.

Part 2 recounts a time ten years later, when people must again pool their strengths to work with the growing mind, called Lex, becoming ever more complex. Unknown to anyone, a recent arrival knows how to hack into Lex—and if necessary, to manipulate it for his own vengeful purposes. The story recounts how machine and human both clash and merge in order to keep the dream alive—to escape to a new home world.

Part 3 takes us one generation farther, twenty years forward to a time when the new little colony—now called “Forever”—is teeming with refugees from war-ravaged Earth even as it prepares the way to a new home planet. The privation, disease, and undercurrents of conflict in this refugee camp make it a powder keg. Murphy’s Law is alive and well. Because what can go wrong does go wrong.

Can a few dedicated humans once again save this tiny world, send it on a rendezvous though space to a final home? Lex and its helpmates depend on a seasoned but ageing veteran, a dedicated director, a young girl, and two desperate refugees…one of whom is a potential murderer and terrorist. And here the author leaves us craving more, soon to come in the next novel of the series, The Rising Tide.

Just a note for this blog’s gay lit readers: Scott is a self-described “inclusive” writer. This novel is less “queer sci/fi” than it is pure, outstanding science fiction/fantasy. Like James Blish a  few generations ago, Scott gives us a new understanding of  “seedling stars.”

5 purp stars

I give this author an A-plus for world-building, characterization, a mesh of fantasy with hard science, and for sheer story-telling ability.


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