Analysis, Reading, Reviews

Book Review: Starflight

Starflight is a YA scifi romance by Melissa Landers and that’s really all you need to know about it. The novel is laser guided missile targeting the same audience as Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach. Starflight has a great opening, but I lost interest a couple chapters in. Read Cinder by Marissa Meyer for your scifi romance fix instead. For writers, I’m going to discuss conveying world-building information through dialogue and setting up an excellent opening.

One more thing, YouTube won’t treat me like a big boy until I get 100 subscribers so it would mean a lot to me if you clicked on the video and smashed that red subscribe button below and to the right of the video. Thanks!

His gaze mocked her. “You’re naive. People do far worse.”
“Maybe. But I trusted you.”
That seemed to get through to him. He took an interest in the ground, hiding behind the dark locks of hair that had fallen across his face. “Let’s focus on getting to the next outpost,”

Starflight by Melissa Landers

Part 1 who’s going to love it

If you love romance, but you also love scifi and you wish the two would get together already. You absolutely adore the way they bicker and they try to pretend they don’t have feelings for each other even as your anticipation of their eventual confessions of love for each other builds and builds and builds and they keep rescuing each other and can’t they see the way the other reacts to their touch…

I lost my train of thought.

Part 2 who’s going to hate it

If romance and its tropes are not your cup of tea, then Starflight is not for you, because make no mistake, even though there is a starship on the cover, this is much more a young adult romance novel than it is anything else.

Part 3 what I thought of it

I was thrilled by Starflight’s opening. It’s an excellent example of how to juggle the many demands of an opening elegantly. You need to introduce the main character, establish her goals, her strengths, her weaknesses. In science fiction you need to introduce the world, you need immediate tension and problems to seize the reader and create that immediate momentum.

Not only is all of that handled masterfully, but there were two moments early on in which the main character took bold and decisive action. The moments caught me off guard and established high expectations that I was in for something special with Starflight.

But then the story descended into tropes. There were a number of contrived set pieces, and what I felt was a predictable arc.

I hate the notion of genre and one of the reasons I hate it is because I think it forces authors to bow to what some publisher thinks the market wants. I saw brilliant potential in Starflight’s opening and first couple chapters, but after that, the bold characters were strapped into straitjackets and railroaded from one contrived situation to the next.

It felt to me like the characters no longer had their own agency. The author was calling all the shots. The plot and everyone in it became slaves to the demands of “genre”.

Also, “my reaction when” many more words are devoted to “I can’t be having these feelings for him” than are devoted to the multiple life-threatening situations the characters are pitched into:

Part 4 what writers can learn from it

But what can be learned from Starflight? A lot, and mostly one can learn from what it does well.

Starflight’s greatest strength and it’s greatest weakness is the same thing: It’s precision engineered.

Every character has a meaningful backstory that impacts their decisions, desires, fears, goals, and actions.

Character goals are established clearly, early, and often, and the erosion of what the characters want corresponds to the elevation of what the characters need.

There is a lot to be said for copying in the learning process and I think that many writers would do well to analyze the structure of Starflight carefully and copy it in its structure.

I also think people can learn from the brilliant opening. Here’s an excerpt:

The old man standing beside Solara invaded her personal space and delivered a light elbow nudge. He leaned in and whispered, “I know someone who can clear your record. He’s the best flesh forger in Houston–even the laserproof ink is no match for him.”
Solara rolled her eyes. She knew a dozen flesh forgers. Finding an expert wasn’t the problem. “If I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be standing here, would I?”

So much information is delivered through dialogue and interaction, not through exposition, and the whole opening is like this. Efficient language. We don’t see the old man totter over with a limp and a grin, he’s just there. That’s from Solara’s perspective. We’re not told that Solara’s poor and has a criminal record. We’re not told that the scifi tech in this world exists to erase the record, or that this future penal system tattoos criminals. We’re shown all of that in a sequence of brief, interactions that are relevant to Solara’s immediate problem of selling herself as an indentured servant to get a trip offworld, which is her immediate goal.

In conclusion…

Looking back at my last three reviews, and thinking about how structured these different books are, I find Starflight to be on the rigidly constructed extreme of the spectrum. House in the Cerulean Sea is perhaps somewhere in the middle, clearly plotted, but not leashed to a structure too strictly, and finally Hull Zero Three is a little bit more free in its construction, further toward unstructured.

Some people are going to love Starflight, absolutely love it. Wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but there’s still a lot that can be learned from it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s