New science fiction, set in the same medium-future as Flynn's previous (Falling Stars, 2001, etc.). Once a luxury passenger liner, its huge superconducting magnetic sails spread to catch the solar wind, The River of Stars became obsolete following the invention of the fusion thruster. Stripped down, equipped with four fusion thrusters, the ship thereafter hauled cargo between Jupiter and the asteroids. Its latest captain, the kindly visionary Evan Hand, assembled a crew of misfits and has-beens, intending—though this does not emerge until much later—to weld them into a team and thereby offer redemption. Two circumstances, both improbable, neither foreseen, conspire to shatter Hand's dream: his own death from an undiagnosed ailment, and the destruction of two engines from a pebble-sized meteor strike. On two engines, the ship cannot decelerate rapidly enough to make landfall. Engineer Bhatterji might possibly manufacture spare parts for the engines, from stores depleted by years of cost-cutting. And the magsails might be deployed, helping to brake the ship. But navigator Corrigan and sailmaster Satterwaithe consider Gorgas, the acting captain, unapproachable, and Bhatterji unsympathetic. So, in secret, they enlist the cargo wranglers and start to refurbish the sails. But how will the diverse, unpredictable crew, young and old, cope? What of the friction between old and new technologies? And what if, amid all this, the ship's artificial intelligence develops sentience?
Flynn's fully realized characters, easy mastery of technical detail, and meticulous, consequential style perfectly matches the theme of this long, dense, spellbinding, brilliant work.