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REVIEW: Marrow by Robert Reed

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining read.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The human captains of an alien, Jupiter-sized spaceship discover an Earth-sized planet at the ship’s core.


PROS: Huge sense-of-wonder; quick, informative writing style.

CONS: Weaker in the second half.

BOTTOM LINE: Entertaining science fiction.

The novel Marrow is an expanded version of the Hugo-nominated novella of the same name.

Imagine a spherical spaceship the size of Jupiter hurtling through the galaxy. After claiming it as their own and charging passage to any being willing to pay (think of it as The Love Boat?in spaaaace!), the ship’s captains and crew settle into a comfortable groove, content with a host of unanswered questions as to the ships creators and origins. As the millennia pass, a startling discovery is made?the core of the spaceship is hollow and in the middle of that empty space is an Earth-sized planet dubbed “Marrow”. The Master-Captain dispatches a group of her finest Sub-captains to explore the world, including the tough second-in-command Miocene and the up-and-coming sub-captain Washen. A bridge is built between the ship and Marrow thanks to a centuries-long effort. Alas, immediately upon landing on Marrow, a catastrophic event maroons the explorers on the unknown planet and wipes out all of the technology. Does the Master Captain know what happened? Has the strange anomaly affected the ship as well?

Millennia pass as the immortal sub-captains bide their time while having children. Eventually, new cultures form on Marrow. There are the Loyalists, largely comprised of the original sub-captains, and the Waywards, the sub-captains’ offspring. The Loyalists only wish to wait until the ever-expanding Marrow expands up to touch the interior of the ship’s core. The Waywards religiously believe that they are the reincarnation of the ship’s Builders, reborn to destroy the “Bleak”, the ships enemies, at all costs.

Marrow gets high marks for sense-of-wonder. An Earth-sized planet located inside an even-larger spaceship traipsing around the Galaxy is just plain cool. Add to that the immortality aspect – biological nanotech, re-grown bodies – and that gets kicked up a notch. As if that weren’t enough, the millennia-spanning characters and story lend an epic quality to the story. Most generational epics offer fleeting glimpses into the main characters. In Marrow, the characters are around for five thousand years. Like an unwelcome Uncle.

The plot essentially changes with each section of the book. It’s like four or five books in one! I found the earlier sections to be the most entertaining. These focused on the discovery of the ship itself (told in a historic narrative), the discovery of Marrow, and the first millennia or three of the stranded sub-captains. The depiction and evolution of the Wayward culture reminded me of Lord of the Flies in some ways.

The later sections, which dealt with the return to the ship and a war between the Waywards and the new captains was less entertaining to me, though still fine reading. For some reason (most likely due to late night readings, I must ashamedly admit) I was having a harder time getting into these parts of the story.

Reed’s writing style is quick and informative. Surprises are just that; events are not telegraphed as in lots of other fiction.

Overall, Marrow entertains.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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