The Well of Stars – Robert Reed (2004)
‘The Great Ship is home to a multitude of alien races and a near-immortal crew. They have toured the Milky Way for millennia, the best and the brightest from a thousand worlds, but the true purpose of the ship has remained hidden. Now, time is running out. The huge spacecraft is heading for the dark, immense region of space known as The Ink Well, and the only entity in the universe more vast and mysterious than The Great Ship is lying in wait…’
Blurb from the 2005 Orbit paperback edition
Reed is a stylist. Claiming to have no influences in the SF canon, the Nebraska-based author is very much an individual voice, although there are echoes of Simak in some of his early work.
Since ‘Marrow’, sales of which elevated Reed’s profile to the level of best-selling SF author (rather than modestly selling quality SF writer), his books have moved away from mid-America based (yet complex) slow moving tales to a form of post-cyberpunk space opera.
Here, in this sequel to ‘Marrow’, Reed once more employs one of his favourite devices, the near-immortal superhuman, or rather, an entire population of them, travelling through space on a ship the size of Jupiter which has a world entombed in its core.
The Great Ship, as it is known, attracts the attention of the polyponds, separate parts of a gestalt Gaian entity which inhabits an entire nebula.
Reed’s writing style is deeply poetic, stylistically romantic and oddly appropriate for the society he has created. Near-immortal humans on the Great Ship see little change and neither does their society. The almost baroque style seems therefore entirely apt.
Reed is not an author prone to writing sequels, having only done it once before in his career to my knowledge, and one does have to ask how much the conception of ‘Well of Stars’ was influenced by the success of ‘Marrow’.
I have noted previously a problem Reed occasionally has with ending his novels, and he seems to have left this open for a third voyage on the Great Ship.
The ending provided here is somewhat unsatisfying and relies rather too much on a Deus Ex Machina provided by ancient aliens who have been living in hiding on the ship for thousands of years.
Having said that, his work is generally superior to most other contemporary SF and this is a genuinely good novel, but one feels that he could have done better.