‘Children of the Comet’ (6 out of 10) by Donald Moffitt. Published by Open Road Media. Available Now.
Donald Moffitt’s "Children of the Comet" is an interesting piece of science fiction. Unfortunately, it can’t quite seem to decide what kind of science fiction it is trying to be. Despite issues with its identity, however, it does tell an appropriately epic story with interesting characters and twists. There is a lot here to like for the hard sci-fi nerd, but it just never hits on all cylinders well enough to make a great novel.
If you like hard science in your fiction there is a lot to enjoy with the theoretical nature of the various plots in this novel. We see the concept of humans not being alone in the universe and how that impacts our progression once we reach interstellar travel. It’s not as pretty as Star Trek and far more depressing, but it realistically addresses the inherent stupidity of a galactic war and its complete ineffectiveness. The odd time paradox of travel at relativistic speeds is also a key element and is played to an unusual extreme. The titular science at play is the Dyson Tree, a hypothetical form of plant life that could grow utilizing the ice in comets, solar energy, and the low gravity to become a potential life-sustaining heavenly body. Combining these elements builds the universe for our characters.
Those characters, while not bad, are the starting point for where the novel might lose you. At a high level the characters can be interesting, like a tribe of sentient dolphins that are extremely valuable for their zero-g repair work to a ship’s hull. There are two main societies present in the story. One, the tree people, is fascinating. The other, the travelers, is less so. On a more personal level, the stereotypes overwhelm the novelty of the story. And this is where the identity struggle resides. Is Moffitt trying to tell just another science fiction story with our existing tropes, or is he trying to create a unique universe that has to play by certain rules? If you’ve got the science behaving rationally why do your characters have to be so lifeless? From the politics to the family dynamics, everything happens on a personal level exactly as you’d expect. His humans, in any form, just don’t seem to have any humanity. Somehow their reactions to something completely unexpected still manage to contain no surprises.
And there should be surprises - unless you’re reading extremely closely and pausing to reflect on the foreshadowing. From a nuts and bolts perspective, the craft of writing has been performed well. There is foreshadowing, there are recurring themes and hints at what’s to come. Unless you’re extremely fascinated with the science and the mundane characters you’ll probably have plenty of time to consider those elements as well, since this isn’t really what you’d call a page turner that will have you flying through with no time to pause for plot considerations.
Depending on your level of comfort with the scientific concepts at play, you may be thrilled with the science or you may be bored. But you still get an interesting universe. From a philosophical standpoint, it’s a good novel to have under your belt. From the interesting story and fascinating characters side of things… it’s a bit lackluster.
Donald Moffitt’s "Children of the Comet" is published by Open Road Media. It is available now on Kindle or your preferred book retailer.