The path to our goal is rarely straight. It tends to turn and twist, which makes the journey far more enjoyable than it would otherwise be.
I must apologize in advance, dear reader. Have you had that book that you read ages ago, only to realize that, oh no, you still need to review it? That was this book for me. Fortunately, I take notes when reading, but all the same – it’s far from a fresh review. On the flip side, that also means this review has a chance to focus in on what stuck for weeks (okay, months) after the initial read. What mattered enough about this book to stay in my mind? With no further ado, let’s find out.
I know the question you’re all going to be asking: is it derivative? Is it like Eragon? Will I be drowning in tropes and predictable plots? The short answer is… sometimes. The longer answer, of course, has a bit more nuance to it. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars has much to recommend it, but suffers from occasional (and unintentional) cheesiness. Paolini may have bitten off a bit more than he could chew, particularly in his handling of a woman as a protagonist.
Fortunately, Sea of Stars has one particular feature I love: WEIRD SENTIENT ALIEN TECH. The novel opens on Kira, a xenobiologist, accidentally uncovering a strange piece of alien pseudo-life. It integrates itself into her body, and at first she struggles to control it. As the novel progresses, they develop a symbiotic relationship with potentially world-altering implications.
It was a ton of fun watching each new xeno-related discovery rise from the murk. Plus, Paolini also gave me cats in zero-g (love it), a space pig, and some really cool jellyfish-like aliens. While I originally thought the term “jellies” for the aliens felt a little bit much, we now live in the time of Rona and I can’t really judge any more. The jellies communicate via scent and are heavily based off of the ‘immortal’ Medusa jellyfish – I loved getting to learn about their society and life cycles!
Sadly, I did feel like plot ended up highly predictable and often brought to mind other books that had similar ideas and themes, but had done them better. As far as the way Kira and the xeno interfaced and her subsequent struggle with bodily autonomy and identity, I was repeatedly reminded of Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. Bear also had better zero-g cats, I’m sad to say.
This book is also quite a bit longer than it ought to have been. It’s a solid 800 pages, and there is a distinct turning point in the middle that makes it feel like a duology combined into one volume. I think it would have been a stronger book if around 300 pages or so had been trimmed.
Kira often feels flat and one-dimensional. At the start of the novel, when she first ‘meets’ the xeno and can’t control it, she slaughters her husband and crewmates. This occurs within the first, oh, thirty pages or so; we barely see any of the relationship between her and her partner, which makes it difficult to understand her feelings on the event later on. Frequently, that trauma is conveniently forgotten only to resurface later when it is used solely as a plot device. I was also pretty uncomfortable with how the novel handled womens’ reproduction and periods. It felt inauthentic and just… strange, really. Kira had “turned off” her periods prior to encountering the xeno, but for some reasons the xeno “fixes” that for her, which she is weirdly nonchalant about given her overarching concerns with bodily autonomy. I would have expected this to be highly distressing. She also reacts to cramps in ways that seem very overblown given the manner in which they are described.
If you don’t find weird alien organisms fascinating, you will probably find this book to be a frustrating read. If you do happen to love that particular brand of space opera, however, and you have a well-developed ability to ignore things that are just a bit off, this will be a fun read.
About the Author
Christopher Paolini is the author of the international bestsellers Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance, as well as The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. His debut science fiction novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, is now available. He resides in Paradise Valley, Montana, USA.