Zen Space Opera – Voyage of Night Shining White

I finished Chris Roberson’s Voyage of Night Shining White last night which I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Despite its slight appearance, it is a book of extraordinary grace and poise.

In an alternate history, Imperial China rules the Earth and has a space-faring fleet. Ten ships are dispatched to Mars in intervals, the Night Shining White being the last to leave. As it travels, the reactor coolant system fails causing the inexperienced captain to undergo some deep worries. After some initial patching, the moral depth of the story is revealed as the reactor core begins to overload and needs to be jettisoned to save the ship.

In so many space operas these actions would cause chaos and  panic but Roberson approaches the issues with a zen calm, focussing upon the ways in which the problems can be seen. He concentrates on the consequences of the actions and how it affects those left behind.

I do wonder whether this is a space opera of manners. In Fantasy of Manners, the action is judged on how well something is said and done, not the action itself which is almost a necessary byproduct. This is certainly the case in this novella in which the motion is generated by the crew members talking to each other and revealing their histories. The captain relates how he became a eunuch and plays out the political background on Earth whilst the other members reveal something of themselves. Each person becomes human and not just a rivet in the skin.

I’ve recently finished his Set the Seas on Fire so more on him soon.

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