Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Alexander Jablokov's novel Deepdrive is about the search for the Holy Grail. In this case, the grail is a device which can be used to help humans escape the prison of the solar system by acquiring faster-than-light travel. The guardians of this grail are the eleven sentient races who have arrived in the solar system using the deepdrive and destroyed their means of propulsion to keep the humans from discovering it. Into this scenario comes Ripi-Arana-Hoc, an alien Vronnan stuck on Venus who may know the secret of the deepdrive who becomes the object of desire of a variety of would-be Bors, Galahads and Percevals. Jablokov's characters, however, are more deeply flawed than the knights who quested in Camelot.
Sophonisba Trost is the leader of a motley band put together in an ad hoc manner as Soph tries to extract Ripi from his Venusian home/prison so she can gain knowledge of how the deepdrive works. Her allies include Ambryn Chretien, a fortune-teller who reads the future in alien organs, Elward Bakst, a limosine driver/heavy who Soph saved from being set up for murder, and Tiber, the odd man who had attempted to get to Ripi before Soph could. Although Jablokov has hung a variety of character traits on these individuals, none of them comes fully to life. This is less of a problem in Deepdrive than it might have been in other novels.
Deepdrive is a traditional science fictional novel of ideas. Not the kind of novel which is noticed outside that science fiction community (except, perhaps, to hold the entire genre up to scorn), but one which is noticed, and popular, within the community. Characterization, dialogue, and even plot takes a back seat to the "Sensawunda" factor. Jablokov has provided that "sensawunda" in spades, both with the idea of the deepdrive, which comes to be much more than simply a means of interstellar propulsion, but also in the variety of races which populate our solar system, leaving humans as the rube cousins of the sentient community. Jablokov's solar system is a microcosm of Larry Niven's "Known Space" series with aliens who range from vaguely (and only vaguely) familiar to those whose make-up (both psychological and physical) is completely foreign to human comprehension.
The complexity of these alien races leads to another difficulty with Deepdrive. . . it is too short. Jablokov could have spent much more time fleshing out the various races and their societies, as well as exploring what their appearance meant to human psychology and social structure. Instead, Jablokov has provided a rich background for his adventurers and leaves the reader wanting to know more about the history of this world. The number of races introduced were so great, frequently in a throw-away line, that it would have been helpful had Jablokov provided an short glossary of species.
The situation is not helped by the fact that Jablokov's chapters are chopped up into scenes which are frequently too short, giving Deepdrive a jumpy quality where the action changes whenever the reader is beginning to be drawn in.
Deepdrive should be read to retrieve some of the wonder which draws people to science fiction and which is all too often lacking from SF, but it shows up in this guise at the expense of plot and character. Jablokov does try to provide the reader with some thoughts about the nature of the self and humanity, but these come across as being more abstract than practical.
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