Starting with Captain Amos January, who quickly loses it, and then the others who fought, schemed, and killed to get it, we travel around the complex, decadent, brawling, mongrelized, interstellar human civilization that the artifact might save or destroy. Collectors want the Dancer, pirates take it, rulers crave it, and all will kill, if necessary, to get it.
This is a thrilling yarn of love, revolution, music, and mystery, and it ends, as all great stories do, with shock and a beginning.
©2008 Michael Flynn; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"[A]n epic tale of adventure, intrigue, suspense and mystery....The plot evokes old-school space opera with its whirlwind pace, immense scope and twist ending, but cutting-edge extrapolation breathes vivid life into this universe of scoundrels, heroes and romantics." (Publishers Weekly)
The tale takes place in a universe where the losers in a galactic civil war were exiled across the "Rift" (an area through which very few of the "electric avenues" used for FTL travel pass.) About a thousand years later the refugees have built their own interstellar civilizations, although those in power fear the day when the victors in that old war will decide to cross the Rift and finish their conquest.
The amount of background detail that is gradually revealed is impressive, as is the careful balancing of factors to make a quest for an object of power seem reasonable. But those who desire a clear-cut ending may not be happy with this book. We are constantly being teased by new details, but even the big reveal at the end only leaves us with more questions and a desire for the sequels whose existence is hinted at in the final chapter.
The accent the reader applies to some characters' dialog is rather strong, but the characters in question are from planets that were originally all populated by a polyglot of refugees, many of which decided to adopt an Old Terran culture and accent as an affectation, so the over-emphasis is understandable and amusing.
I think this book will be enjoyed by fans of space opera, those who enjoy examples of extensive world building, and anyone who is intrigued the asking of questions, even if we're not always given all the answers to those questions.
Flynn delivers a respectable space opera in a grand style. The basic plot concerns the discovery of an alien artifact that appears as a "twisting stone" known as the dancer which possesses special powers. Much of the tale concerns various players in this universe vying for its ownership. The timeframe is far into the future when Earth has settled much of the spiral arm, but has also suffered its own collapse with loss of its collective memory. We are treated to multiple variations on Earth's former cultural heritage. As an added bonus, the story is related as a tale within a tale.
The sci-fi elements are mostly limited to interplanetary travel by unique physics due to rifts in the space time fabric that can be traversed like highways. There is a bit of biological manipulation as well. The only knock to the story is a lack of closure for most of the characters.
The narration is superb with an excellent reprisal of the primary storyteller. The multiple characters, along with extreme accents and unique vernacular peccadilloes demand close listening in order to follow the complex plot.
The prose, world building, narration, and story are excellent.
This is not an easy listen, and I can see where some people would be turned off. You may have to listen to parts more than once.
But I dont mind listening to an audio book more than once, and I thought the writing style was worth it.
I hope Flynn writes some more books in this setting..
Historical fiction, science fiction, mysteries -- we love them all.
Space Opera had fallen on hard times in the 70s and 80s. The galaxy spanning empires didn't seem credible anymore -- how could a civilization with such technology not achieve (avoid) Transcendence? Even the Foundation series grew long in the tooth.
Fortunately, a whole new generation of writers have revived the concept: Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Ken MacLeod, Peter Watts, Karl Schroeder, etc.
Now, Michael Flynn has joined this group with their fresh ideas and good stories.
The characters are indeed odd ball and the story goes all over the place, hiding the core mystery of both the characters and the story. What fun it is to have a good SF book combined with a mystery story.
If you like any of the above SF writers, you'll probably enjoy this book.
The January Dancer continues with Up Jim River, but is a stand-alone novel, not dependent on any other book in the series.
Michael Flynn creates a fascinating blend of cultures, fragmentary histories, and characters. The narrative switches between a reluctant storyteller and his audience of one, and the events that unfolded surrounding the Dancer. Musical themes flow through the narrative, and the author provides a feeling much akin to musical themes and counterpoints throughout the story.
Several of the subplots are not fully explored, and several of the premises for the story require a significant suspension of disbelief such as a complete lack of technological and scientific innovation across far-flung interstellar civilizations. Nonetheless, the quality of the characters and the mysteries that unfold in the story make this a solidly enjoyable tale. I suspect a number of friends will be receiving this as a gift in the near future. Highly recommended.
Rarely can I not finish a book, even if I feel mixed about it. For this one both the author and the narrator combined to make this impossible for me to get very far in.
The author does eventually get around to supporting the premise described in the capsule review with some plot, but getting there involves a bunch of drawn out side trips which are hard to follow and seem to have little relevance, other than adding color to the author's universe which includes premises about science and culture that don't jell - especially how the expansion of earth cultures into specific worlds turns out.
This is where the narrator puts a major hole in the boat - and its not that he's not capable (i've listened to other things he's done), just not the right guy for this book. The cultural abstractions used by the author push the characters towards being heavily accented for the different societies (such as Irish or Indian), and the narrator just is not up to the task - he's not really good at any of them and there are quite a number of them, all badly overdone. If he had played it more lightly or a different reader had been involved, MAYBE this would have kept me going.
GIve it a pass.
One of my favorite series of books is Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, reflecting the poem by John Keats first published in 1818. They are a sweeping, sometimes tortured but epic space opera.
January Dancer is akin to an abridged version of that type of epic. That is not a bad thing....as I wonder how many people actually finish the Cantos. While long and winding in epic style, it is one book. A story within a story, it starts with three themes and uses a good deal of analogy to music. I liked it. A number of clever side trips add to a great ending.
The narration is also quite a bit of fun. Rudnicki's heavy Irish efforts are worth the listen alone.
There are new ideas here -- but it is not so bizarre that it become inaccessible.
Not a mainstream reader.
"The January Dancer" is the first book in the Tales of the Spiral Arm series and while it is written well from Michael Flynn, I'm not too sure where the story is going. I am assuming that the author is laying down the foundation of this space opera.
At a glance, January Dancer is a let down, but as I read it more and as I understand the storytelling, I get where the series is going. If you are looking for sci fi action with sonic booms, you won't get any of it in this book.
The first book is more about forming the outer space society. There is very little dialogue between the characters. Most of the story is told by narrative. It's a little dry at some parts, but I'm not giving up just yet and bought "Up Jim River", the next book in the series.
I quite enjoyed The January Dancer. Michael Flynn weaves a complex story from multiple viewpoints, most seemingly unrelated at first. However, all the threads connect in some way to a strange and ancient alien artifact that comes to dominate the lives of the protagonists.
Michael Flynn's skill as a writer makes this much more than just good space opera. Recommended for those who like Ian M. Banks's Culture series.
This books falls in line with the works of Jack McDevitt in that it really is as much mystery as science fiction. Much of the book (it is written as a tale within a tale) neither advances the plot nor adds to the depth of the essential characters but rather allows the author to turn an interesting phrase. While enjoyable, I prefer more plot-driven stories.
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