Book Review: Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson
After reading N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, I was in the mood for something a bit … lighter. And hey look, it’s Brandon Sanderson! That guy’s usually good for some punchy adventure, right? The funny thing is, I actually started reading Starsight nearly a year ago, but general pandemic malaise kept me from finishing it.
Starsight is the sequel to Sanderson’s Top Gun Meets Gurren Lagann YA Space Opera, Skyward. Which, despite being a Sanderson YA novel, I actually rather liked. It wasn’t perfect, mind you, but there was enough to keep me mildly curious for the sequel, and … here we are.
Skyward continues to follow the adventures of Spensa (Callsign: Spin) Nightshade, a scrappy young pilot with something to prove™, and her mysteriously sentient starfighter buddy, M-Bot. That’s short for “Massacre-Bot,” because Spensa is a weirdo, and “Murderbot” was taken already.
Right from the start, Starsight changes things up. Instead of continuing Spensa’s adventures in defending Barren-Utahlike-Desert-Planet, Starsight soon has Spensa and M-Bot zipping across the galaxy to the titular Starsight station, an alien metropolis where Spensa inadvertently winds up as a spy, trying to discover the secret to FTL travel that will save her homeworld and the last remnants of the human race living there. No pressure.
Honestly, the sudden change in setting threw me off at first, but it’s something I got used to as the book went on. The expanded scope of the setting allows Sanderson to really go nuts with various alien races and stuff, so you get creatures like clouds of sentient vapor, or tiny little fox-aliens that crew starfighters the way that humans crew battleships. You can tell Sanderson had a lot of fun coming up with this stuff, and that sense of enjoyment carries through to the book itself.
Starsight is honestly a more solid book than Skyward, as it boils down to the more interesting bits. So there’s more space opera Top Gun business, and less explorations of a human society that doesn’t make much sense. Or, well, perhaps the setting of Starsight is just as arbitrary, but it’s easier to swallow coming from various aliens? Though instead of dealing with clumsy notions of “cowardice” like Skyward did, Sanderson instead explores ideas of human “aggression,” particularly in that most aliens living on Starsight station consider humanity to be a horde of mindless hyperviolent berserkers. Humans as space-orks, basically. Kind of an amusing, outsider way to look at humanity– and it likely doesn’t help that Spensa herself is kind of a bloodthirsty weirdo. (As again, she named her spaceship buddy “Massacre-Bot).
So yeah. The plot of Starsight moves along at a fair clip, and there is plenty of blasty spaceship action to enjoy. There’s also some business about “cytonics,” which are the kind of psychic powers you saw pop up in Campbell-era sci-fi all the time. Though amazingly enough, this is a Sanderson novel without an appendix at the end going into the minutiae of the magic system, so … bonus?
Starsight is also the second in a (theoretical) trilogy, in that it builds off of the last book, expanding the setting to a large degree– and then it ends on a cliffhanger. Which, naturally, has me at least interested in reading the conclusion, so good on that, Sanderson. Though I wonder if we may be getting into “The Second One’s the Best” territory, here. (See also: The Empire Strikes Back, Evil Dead 2, Mass Effect 2– this could be a long list).
Honestly though, I dare say there’s not much to say about Starsight. I mean, it’s an entertaining enough piece of space opera, and it’s certainly an improvement on the first book in the series. But at the same time it didn’t change my life or give me a new look on the wider universe or whatever. But honestly, sometimes you just want to read about spaceships and lasers, y’know?