by Allen M. Steele



346pp/$25.00/March 2016

Cover by Victor Mosquera

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In many ways, Allen M. Steeleís novel Arkwright is a love letter to science fiction of the golden age, not just in its presentation of an exploratory spaceship which is the result of the ambition of a single family, but in its presentation of a protagonist, Nathan Arkwright, who in Steeleís world was considered one of the major science fiction authors of the twentieth century.

In the opening pages of the novel, Steele not only shows the death of Nathan Arkwright through the eyes of his estranged granddaughter. It was only after his death that she learned the full extent of his importance to the growth of science fiction, beginning with his attendance at the first World Science Fiction Convention, which Steele lovingly recreates. This section of the novel focuses on the past, setting in place the relationships which will govern the rest of the novel as well as set the Arkwright Foundation as a going concern.

Building on his (and his friendsí) longtime interest in space exploration, Nathan Arkwright has established his Foundation to build a spaceship. Once his granddaughter is aware of the project and her grandfatherís life story, Steele focuses on the Foundationís efforts to build the Foundation and the Starship Galactique. The novel continues through multiple generations of the Arkwright familyís involvement in the project before shifting focus to the society built on several Eos several generations after the planet is populated.

To avoid the need for people to travel on the generation ship, Arkwright, of course, was a science fiction author and was familiar with everything that can go wrong on such a ship based on his writings, and Heinleinís, and other authors, the characters make the decision to send eggs and sperm on the trip which will be gestated once they arrive at a suitable planet and it has been terraformed. The characters admit that one of the issues with sending non-humans like this is that they will need to be raised as they form a culture, which is eventually resolved in a hand-waved manner with computers educated them.

The single family involved in every aspect of the interstellar expedition, from conception to planning to colonization to follow-through, is taken directly from the type of science fiction that was written in the forties and fifties. It may be fun, but when compared to the massive effort put into sending a manned mission to the moon or a robotic probe to the outer planets, it seems a little on the naÔve side. Nevertheless, it works within the context of Arkwright to provide a nostalgic science fiction novel which is as much about the culture of science fiction as it is about the science fiction itself.

The final section of the novel which follows the new civilization on Eos is a bit of a let-down, reading more like a standard science fiction novel than the previous sections. Although it incorporates several intriguing ideas with multiple cultures stemming from the Arkwright project, it does feel like it flows naturally from the rest of the novel, which isnít to say it isnít worthwhile. The different parts of Arkwright were originally published as separate stories in Asimovís, and the final section, ďThe Children of Gal,Ē worked very well on its own.

Taken as a whole, Arkwright is a fun novel filled with nostalgia and reaching back to a golden age of science fiction. If the entire novel doesn't quite live up to its potential, it is intruiging to see how the individual sections of Arkwright seem to form a work that is greater that when taken as a unit. Steele's novels, from Orbital Decay to Arkwright, have always been a good mixture of nuts-and-bolts science fiction mixed with pop culture and clever ideas. In this, Arkwright is an enjoyable novel.

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