Reviews: Asimov's Science Fiction

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 Starship Mountain 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

Interested in more books novellas like Starship Mountain? Check out our book reviews here.

Photo by Grzegorz Mleczek on Unsplash

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