“It’s a mystery. Mysteries are great. Let’s peel it open and see if it’s wrapped around an enigma.”“I hate mysteries,” Callie said, not entirely accurately. “You always think it’s going to be a box full of gold, but usually it’s a box full of spiders.”
Normally, the scifi I respond to is a little more reverent of the space and the science, but Pratt’s characters’ irreverence is surprisingly contagious – and charming! Callie and her spacefaring crew on board the White Raven are sharp and witty, with a clearly defined pattern of banter that not only helps to make these characters feel real and alive, but also illuminates their complicated histories. Pratt even ensures that different crew members have different styles, and that outsiders, while still funny, don’t sound quite the same either.
“He’s right.” Drake’s voice was amused. “With both of you off the ship, leaving me and Janice unsupervised? We could get up to anything. The only thing keeping me from crashing us into the nearest icy planitesimal is your strong leadership. Janice, hold me back.”
I think what most impresses me about Pratt’s writing in The Wrong Stars is his ability to squeeze crisp descriptions into seemingly innocuous passages. With one passing observation, Pratt has characters explain historical context, or engineering considerations, help readers get our bearings in a new scene, anticipate and dispel potential misinterpretations by readers – all while presenting completely believable monologue or dialogue. This skill allows him to seamlessly provide context precisely where it’s needed, instead of backloading his narrative with explicative histories and long descriptions of this setting or that scientific bauble – as so many science fiction authors must do. Of course, that makes his prose feel more immediate, keeps the action ever flowing uninterrupted, and helps reader immersion (since we know what relevant information the characters know, it allows us as readers to anticipate realistic and plausible “next steps” or solutions along with the characters, enhancing our feeling of really understanding Pratt’s world).
Surprisingly, for once my favorite character isn’t the AI – because I love each and every crew member on the White Raven. This is the exact opposite of one of The Wrong Stars’ competitors for the PKD, Six Wakes, wherein I hated all of the characters (but still loved the story, of course). Each of the characters on the White Raven is charming, individual, and richly fleshed out while still containing plenty of human (so to speak) mystery. This does include the AI, who in excellent 2017-scifi fashion has a wonderfully scientific explanation for just what kind of artificial intelligence he is, and who is just as witty, just as wryly self-aware as any of the other crew members.
Reviewer’s note: If you’re working on a collection of “the best scifi featuring AI” (like some people I know) The Wrong Stars belongs in your collection.
While The Wrong Stars might not be my favorite scifi book of 2017, it’s certainly an excellent example of scifi done well. There are a few parts (as the story advances) where my willing suspension of disbelief is shaken, and one of Pratt’s formatting choices is a little hard for me to take in stride. Overall, Pratt’s The Wrong Stars is purely, undeniably, excellent science fiction.