Starquake

Book cover of Starquake.
Book 2 of the Cheela series

Review

Starquake is the second book in the Cheela series by Robert L. Forward. It follows the Cheela as they rescue the humans and rebuild after a devastating starquake.

Starquake begins just moments after the ending of Dragon’s Egg. Unlike its predecessor, Starquake presents a more straightforward narrative, with characters who—thanks to the Cheela’s natural regeneration—remain present for longer than 15 human minutes.

The story’s initial conflict arises when the human spacecraft is damaged, and the Cheela pledge to repair it. This section is both amusing and thought-provoking due to the stark contrast between the perspectives. The humans see an urgent crisis mere minutes away from disaster, while the Cheela view it as a long-term, somewhat boring project. We watch the Cheela population gradually losing interest, their government postponing votes and shelving critical bills, and the space fleet Cheela struggling to secure funding to fulfill their promise. In a way, this becomes a study of how societies handle large-scale, slow-moving crises—not unlike our own challenges with issues such as climate change.

The book’s main conflict unfolds shortly after the humans are rescued, when a massive starquake decimates the Cheela civilization, leaving only four survivors on the star and a few hundred in orbit. The remainder of the novel follows the Cheela—and humans—as they rebuild their society, confront the barbarian Cheela who rise to take control of the star, and work to restore their technological capabilities, allowing them to rescue the humans again. In a not-so-surprising turn of events, the humans play a crucial role in the battle against the barbarians by using their LIDAR to blind the horde. This was foreshadowed earlier with a reference to The Lion and the Mouse, suggesting that t even the technologically inferior humans might one day again be able to help the Cheela.

The large cast of characters who persist across hundreds of generations reminds me of Peter F. Hamilton’s works, like the Commonwealth Saga, The Void Trilogy, and The Chronicle of the Fallers; which is reinforced by the theme of building super-advanced technology. While the plot’s rising tension and climax provide the novel with clear direction, it limits the amount of detail Robert L. Forward can include, which was the highlight of Dragon’s Egg. Still, it’s impressive that he was able to echo the structure of the first book, once again depicting the Cheela building their civilization from scratch. In the end, these factors mostly balance out, resulting in a book about as good as the first.

Robert L. Forward was inspired by Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity when writing this series, so that is the next book I plan to read.