Spider and Jeanne Robinson
the Dial Press/James Wade, 1977,78,79
Die-hard fans of S&JR might want to skip this one.
Synopsis: Charlie Armstead, video artist is introduced to Shara Drummond by her sister Norrey. Shara has talent but is physically unsuited to dance as it is done in the late 20th century. Charlie and Shara form an alliance to sell Shara's dance commercially but they fail to find a market niche. Charlie turns to drink and Shara disappears from his life.
Shara turns up several years later, having prostituted herself to Carrington, evil space billionaire. She gets Charlie to come up to LEO to film her new zero-gee dance form. They are under time pressure, as Shara is adapting badly to free fall and is likely to be sent back to Earth to recover. They don't manage to finish in time. There's a pointless confrontation scene with Carrington but the two are hauled off to be returned to Earth by the UN Space Command.
Suddenly aliens attack! Little red firefly aliens in a transparent beach ball but since they have hyperdrive and we can't talk to them, everyone gets excited.
Shara manages to go and dance her way to a telepathic link with the aliens. They leave. She is too rough shape to survive returning to Earth so she de-orbits using her suit thrusters and burns up in the upper atmosphere.
Carrington falls victim to a karma-bomb and is seen heading off into space.
Charlie discovers that Shara's freefall tapes are suddenly worth a lot of money. Half the money is left to Norrey. Charlie suddenly discovers he loves Norry. They head off to space to train more space dancers.
They spent a fair amount of time training dancers, discovering how hard it is for people to adapt to free fall. Charlie has an accident which sends him off into an independent orbit, where he will die. Luckily, his sweetie can get to him using a OTV the dancers have. Unluckily, it doesn't have enough reaction mass for them to rendezvous and return so both will die together, threatening to kill them both on page 126, leaving 92 blank pages. The danger of a first person POV narrative is that if they get killed early, the author is somewhat screwed [Sunset Blvd being a counter-example, of course]. Luckily, just the right amount of time earlier, the aliens reappear and the Space Command is sent over to collect Charlie and company, since the only known contact with the aliens was through a dancer. You have to admire that kind of precise timing.
Luckily, there's a space probe being readied which can make it to Saturn in a year. Some Space Commandos, a handful of politicians and the dancers head off to Saturn.
Once there, the dancers make telepathic contact with the fireflies, who it turns out seed stars, or the planets around them, with life and when a species gets to the right point [some billions of years later] gets back into communication with them to help the baby species make the jump to a space dwelling one. To this end, the fireflies give a symbiont to the dancers which will let them live unprotected in space. The organism which makes this possible is on/near Titan, where only spacegoing types can get to it. The shock of What Is Going On knocks the dancers out. For some reason, this causes some tension in the rest of the crew until the dancers wake up and commit exposition.
One of the politicians is evil [This is no surprise: he is mentioned as potential vice presidential material]. Luckily the dancers suddenly become telepathic [I never become telepathic under stress. Me and the offog are just SOL, I guess] In the course of subduing him, a supporting character who was never fleshed out dies and a Named Character is slightly wounded. Another politician is misguided and he gets talked out of killing everyone. The story ends with humanity on the verge of a immortal existance in space.
Shara turns up alive, having been rescued at the last moment by the benevolent space aliens.
Nggg. I wanna get paid for this.
I liked the first little bit in '77. I was a teenager, I never noticed the action-movie silliness of the fisticuff confrontation with Carrington. Shara's sacrifice was touching and many of the space sequences well handled. I loathed the sequel sequences. I still do.
The Robinsons do the scenes where the dancers are trying to figure out how to live and work in space pretty well. They recommend A House in Space and The Third Industrial Revolution and have obviously drawn from both but there's original material of their own in their as well. This is, I think, the strongest section of the book.
Then we get the goddamned stupid false crisis sequences and the hokey timing. It was really hard not to restrain my tendency towards sarcasm: the death-in-orbit sequence is so blatantly gratuitous and the timing of the aliens return such a hack. It becomes increasingly obvious that the dancers are clad in inertron and can't really be hurt. It's also pretty clear that the villains could have God Almighty on their side and they'd still get run over by a bus on the way to the toilet. Then, just as I'm thinking, "well, at least Shara was a real character who took real risks" she turns up alive, saved by the celestial tinkerbells who can, btw, shape worlds but can't sent a simple postcard or communicate in a non-threatening way despite having been at this for billions of years. I can't think of rude enough way to express what a cheat this book's plot is.
Standard late '70s turn of the century: cheap space travel, no net, some video phones. VCRs use betamax. Robinson's wrong about the biggest cost to space travel, btw. Also, they think not needing to eat removes the need for an econony. Har har. Wonder if they think people are eating those books they buy?
S&JR credit Varley and Frank Herbert with the symbiont which allows humans to live naked in space. Where did Herbert use the idea? There's two Simak shorts which have something similar, although they might be obscure.