Publisher: Baen; Reprint edition (November 15, 1986)
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m quite the Timothy Zahn fan. I can’t entirely explain why, save that his writing style and plots tend to hook me, and keep me hooked, through most of his stories and novels. Even his weaker offerings (like Outbound Flight), still keep me pretty well entertained. There’s not a lot of authors I can say that about.
Spinneret is one of Zahn’s older novels, and one I knew almost nothing about before reading it. I’m not even sure where I got it. It was interesting going into a novel totally blind, especially when it’s by an author that I’m such a huge fan of.
The setup of Spinneret is both straightforward and complex at the same time. It’s the year 2016, and humanity has finally made it to the stars. What they’ve found, however, is that the stars are already occupied. Alien races of varying stripes have already colonized most of the galaxy, and there’s really nowhere for humanity to go. Except Astra, a small planet that has the peculiar distinction of having have absolutely no metals, at all. Humanity is offered the planet, and after some politicking and discussion, the
Of course, none of them care about Astra initially, until the colonists discover exactly why there are no metals on the planet; the Spinneret, an enormous alien machine which leeches metal right out of the planet’s surface and processes it, creating enormous, super-strong, lightweight, metal rods that are launched into orbit around the planet. No one is sure exactly what the machine is for, or who built it, but everyone wants in on the action. What follows is a combination of political and military intrigue, as various factions among the colonists, the humans, and the aliens all try to figure out how to work things to their best advantage. And of course, the mystery of who built the Spinneret, and why, overshadows all of the political maneuvering.
I was pretty well pleased with this one, overall. The book is fun, fast-paced, and interesting. Some of the characters are a bit two-dimensional, like Perez, who is a radical taken to ludicrous extremes, but overall, it’s well done. The various alien races, while only touched upon, are all fairly unique—I particularly enjoyed the glimpses we got of the M’Zarch, a warrior culture that actually has jobs like “Cowards Advocate” (whose role seems to be offering suggestions that don’t involve killing things), and the Pom, a water-bound race of Dolphin/Octopoids. The mystery of the Spinneret does get answered, and if the answer is not entirely satisfying, it’s enough to satisfy the needs of the plot. In the end, this book is less about the Spinneret, and more about people’s reactions to it, and to each other. Good stuff.