“The Stark Divide” by J. Scott Coatsworth

This book is in three parts, each a novella on its own, connected together by the characters involved. The first one is a pretty standard spaceship-oriented Hard- Sci-Fi action story. It is structured for the first few chapters with perhaps a bit too many flashbacks: a legitimate was to get backstory in, but it can easily be overdone. These are spaced out between the action scenes, but after a while, we want to see less of them and more action, sooner.

But once the action starts picking up, it’s straight suspense all the way to the end. Technical details are well thought out and succinctly described. The ending is satisfying and appropriate.

The second part again starts slowly, filling us in on ten years of important events, global and personal. This story has a “space station” setting and less hard science. There are many characters, and the constant switching of point of view makes the story hard to follow at times. There is no through-line of conflict or objective, so for several chapters, we must be satisfied with the magnificent setting description. Then, rather suddenly, the conflict begins, a standard humans-against-the-environment plotline that is the bread and butter of all disaster books.

But we never really get an overarching theme or struggle. The most important conflict is to save a person’s life, which is good enough but doesn’t engage us fully. The thematic material is a fait accompli, so doesn’t arouse much tension. As expected, it comes to a happily-ever-after, love-at-first-sight conclusion for everyone.

The third part shifts to the deteriorating earth, where two refugees are trying desperately to get into space, and to the final moments of the space station as the earth below crumbles into anarchy. This story is a tighter, more unified tale, and moves along briskly. Modern topical conflicts such as the problem of handling large numbers of refugees lend a realistic tone.

If it matters to anyone, this gay-friendly story handles that subject in a casual and non-intrusive manner that I hope reflects how such matters will be dealt with in the future of all cultures.

A literary sandwich in which the bread slices are the tastiest parts.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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