Review: Starship Mountain

Starship Mountain is a sleuth story at heart, sending us on a chase through this Elizabethan England-style city on a world much like our own. Mix in the intrigue of the investigation and an alleyway sword-fight with a major science fiction twist and you’ve got an awesome novella that deserves the sequels to (hopefully) come.

STARSHIP MOUNTAIN

Allen M. Steele
Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2018

QUICK SUMMARY

A man is hired to find the missing daughter of a leading family. He pairs up with her young fiancé, traveling to the shady part of town the detective knows so well. After a few lines of questioning and a brawl, they discover the young woman amidst a secret hidden from their world for centuries.

WHY I LOVED IT

OLD-SCHOOL WORLD

There are so many cool things about this world. You’ve got the peasant and noble styles of dress and deportment. You’ve got a complete lack of technology, replaced by swords, rapiers, and ancient guns. You’ve got buggys pulled by three-eyed beasts. You’ve got a race of beings living alongside humans that closely resemble bi-pedal dogs (though you’d be thrown in jail if you say so). You’ve got a deep hierarchical structure including eight major ruling families and millions of people spread between a middle and lower class. It’s a deeply developed world, and the author was able to convey so much in such a short space. Major props to him for the world-building.

GREAT SLEUTH STORY

I love a good sleuth story and this one has some great twists and turns. It follows the typical plot – man hired by a father to find his daughter, starts snooping around the fiancé’s house, finds out he knows more than he’s telling, confronts a co-conspirator and finds her safe and sound. Pair it with excellent world-building, a clash between classes and the ongoing intrigue of the secrets this world (and the daughter) is hiding, and you’ve got a great story.

THROW IN A LITTLE MAGIC

The main character’s derision of magic makes for a funny moment with an uppity mage who doesn’t have any real abilities. I thought for a moment that this would be a magic-filled world, but it’s just a few old men waving their hands over maps and pointing to a general region where a person might be. I love that the sleuth calls the guy out, almost causing a duel and a run-in with the law in the process.

A GREAT ORIGIN STORY

The name gives away the big plot point here, but it’s still kind of a spoiler to discuss it. The idea of a colony covering a spaceship with dirt, building a wall around it, and claiming it’s a mountain is hilarious. You’ve got this enormous spaceship – dozens of floors, hundreds of room – hanging out under a mound of dirt just below the city and most people never thought to question why it was guarded and whether there was actually a spaceship? It would appear that the original captain built a myth around their founding of this city and people blindly follow it with the help of the indigenous race. It’s definitely a criticism of the absurdities that a belief system can bring to daily life if it’s used as a smoke-shield to cover up the truth. I really want to know more about why these people decided to build this colony the way they did. It sounds like a sequel is in the works – let’s hope that happens!

CONCEPTS

Investigation, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Swordplay, Space Travel, Spaceship, Indigenous Race, Aliens

Photo by Grzegorz Mleczek on Unsplash

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