by Robert J. Sawyer
Review by James Walton

I've never seen Starplex in its book form, so I must assume the book contained the same material as the serialized version with no additions or changes.

I will state for the record that I think Starplex is much more interesting than Sawyer's Terminal Experiment, which was nominated for the Hugo last year.

The Starplex of the books title is a huge starship. Thousands of Commonwealth citizens live and work aboard her as the ship flits about the Milky Way. The Commonwealth is made up of planets connected by "shortcuts." These shortcuts are 4 billion artificial and abandoned stargates located all through the galaxy. No one knows who built these gates or why, of course.

All is not well within the Commonwealth. The shortcuts made it possible for many alien races to meet, often before they were ready. There is conflict and intrigue all of which is reflected in Starplex, who crew is a miniature version of the Commonwealth.

Luckily, the shortcuts are inactive until something enters it locally. Whenever a new shortcut is turned on, Starplex is sent to investigate and perhaps make First Contact with a new race.

Keith Lansing, the director of Starplex is human and undergoing a midlife crisis. (At least that's what his wife, Clarissa thinks. He just seems overworked to me.) He is responsible for the thousands of beings on his ship, many of whom are hostile to humans. It is during a routine check of a recently activated shortcut that Lansing and crew discover that the universe is much stranger than any of them ever imagined.

Although most of the characters in Starplex are quite wooden and one dimensional, the hard science discussions were very well done.

And yes, I made the obligatory comparisons of the Starplex ship and crew to the starship Enterprise. (Original series of course.) Everyone of a certain age thinks of the Enterprise when someone says the word starship. Of the 3 or four Sawyer books I have read, I'd say this is his best.

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