Review of January Dancer by Michael Flynn

SFFaudio Review

The January Dancer by Michael FlynnThe January Dancer
By Michael Flynn; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
1 MP3-CD or 9 CDs – Approx. 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781433250996 (MP3-CD), 9781433250972 (CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Aliens / Space Flight /

Captain Amos January, and crew, are forced to look for ship repair materials on an unknown planet. There they discover an alien ship filled with fascinating artifacts, among them a shape-changing sculpture that becomes known as “The Dancer.” We learn of some of The Dancer’s attributes as known in ancient legends and confirmation is received as we watch the story unfold. It is sought by cabals, pirates, governments, and other powers who unleash different characters to acquire The Dancer. Not unexpectedly these characters are scoundrels, idealists, and romantics whose tracks intersect and form their own sort of dance as they maneuver to best one another. This tale is told to us as a story within a story as a Harper hears the tale, a bit at a time, from the Scarred Man. This is an interesting device as not only are we told the story but Flynn uses the framing story to give us his ideas about storytelling as an art.

It is a trend these days, or so it seems to me, for modern science fiction authors to attempt to write “space opera.” As an aficionado of that subgenre who has recently been browsing among the past masters of the art (in large part thanks to Librivox), my view is that the modern take tends to be drawn-out, unfocused, and sprawling by comparison. Sadly, although I also am an aficionado of Michael Flynn’s work, I believe he has fallen prey to the desire to expand the story past the demands of the genre. The original writers wrote snappy, bold, romantic adventures that did not worry overmuch about expostulation and got to the point. Flynn, on the other hand, gives a bewildering combination of too much philosophical conversation and not enough details about the characters’ lives. There is a plethora of characters as well, almost too many to track, and this often leaves the listener bewildered as to just who has suddenly popped up unexpectedly in a scene. As well, in the last couple of chapters the tone shifts unexpectedly, as if Flynn suddenly was told he had to finish up, and thus the novel swung into abrupt action and snapped out a strangely sparse finale. The revelations were not illogical or even unsatisfying. However, after dragging on and on in the middle of the book it was quite disconcerting to suddenly be flung headlong into the finish in the style of “a shot rang out and everyone fell dead.”

Stefan Rudnicki narrates with his usual expertise, adroitly affecting slight voice changes that communicate character when voicing dialogue. One wishes that the editors had added a slight aural indicator when there were scene changes. In a book of many characters who are flung from one exotic location to another at a second’s notice, it is very difficult to tell when there is a scene change immediately with nothing other than a slight pause between sections. I must also note, that my above complains about Flynn’s book overall may have been due to the fact that a complex book is necessarily more difficult to grasp when listening rather than reading as it was written. In this instance, the editors would have done well to help the listener all they could.

If you are a Michael Flynn fan, this book will not be a complete waste. I did enjoy it initially, but I simply wished it had been truly the space opera that it purported to be.

Note: should readers think that there are no modern writers capable of space opera that is worthy of comparison with those of older times, I refer you to the “Agent of Change” series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem, Plan B, and I Dare) and Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and John J. Myers. None of these are in audiobook format that I know of but are well worth seeking out.

Posted by Julie D.

Scott D.

Reviews Editor, SFFaudio

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