About the Book
Title: The Stark Divide (Liminal Sky #1)
Author: J. Scott Coatsworth
Release Date: 10/10/17
Publisher: DSP Publications
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Length: 284 Pages
Genre: Sci Fi, Space, Gen Ship, Apocalypse, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer
Some stories are epic.
The Earth is in a state of collapse, with wars breaking out over resources and an environment pushed to the edge by human greed.
Three living generation ships have been built with a combination of genetic mastery, artificial intelligence, technology, and raw materials harvested from the asteroid belt. This is the story of one of them—43 Ariadne, or Forever, as her inhabitants call her—a living world that carries the remaining hopes of humanity, and the three generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers working to colonize her.
From her humble beginnings as a seedling saved from disaster to the start of her journey across the void of space toward a new home for the human race, The Stark Divide tells the tales of the world, the people who made her, and the few who will become something altogether beyond human.
Humankind has just taken its first step toward the stars.
I’ve read a number of books by the author, and I’ve enjoyed them. This one blows them all away. It is a phenomenal piece of writing that had my undivided attention from the first page.
There is so much in here that hits all my personal hot spots: World-building that slowly unfolds without a ton of expository text; flawed but likable characters; both subtle and overt references to favorite speculative fiction; action that’s low on both sex and violence; social themes; and a what-will-happen-next plot.
This is not a romance by any stretch, but the relationships among the various people are important. I loved the friendship aspects and the way people in this world are allowed to simply be who they are without question, despite the horrific and tragic circumstances of the story. In fact, those parts seem so mundane as to be of little importance to the plot. It’s refreshing to see LGBT+ people simply existing rather than being the driving force of the novel.
I absolutely love the world the author has created. The ship-mind, and later the station-mind and the world-mind, are fascinating. I can’t wait to see how that’s explored more fully in future books. I’m particularly interested in the world-mind and some aspects of it that have (for me, at least) metaphoric significance. Saying more would be spoilers, but it is so completely fascinating to me, and I want to know more.
There’s a lot of diversity here, in particular with regard to LGBT+ identities. I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed not to have spotted anyone obviously bisexual or any trans women or non-binary people (though gay, lesbian, and a trans man are all covered nicely). However, there is at least one character that I chose to read as bi, and I’m hoping that when they return, that will be confirmed. And if not, perhaps that’s what good speculative fiction is for: my perceptions may be correct even if it’s never spoken. In any case, I loved that there were so many different people.
Another theme which grabbed me was the way aspects of faith and spirituality are woven into the narrative. It’s not a bash-you-on-the-head kind of religion. Like gender and orientation, it’s simply part of who some characters are. But there are also some more subtle and deeper connections (for example, one aspect of the world-mind). While only one religion is specifically named in the book, there are things which may be relatable to people of faith regardless of spiritual identity.
The novel is told in three parts, and the first two are resolved fairly easily. The third one left me feeling simultaneously anguished, hopeful, and on the edge of my seat. It does leave off with what I consider a cliffhanger, so I’m hoping we’ll see part two sooner rather than later.
For a diverse cast, a highly absorbing story, and an ending that left me wanting more, this gets 10/10 fountain pens.
“DRESSLER, SCHEMATIC,” Colin McAvery, ship’s captain and a third of the crew, called out to the ship-mind.
A three-dimensional image of the ship appeared above the smooth console. Her five living arms, reaching out from her central core, were lit with a golden glow, and the mechanical bits of instrumentation shone in red. In real life, she was almost two hundred meters from tip to tip.
Between those arms stretched her solar wings, a ghostly green film like the sails of the Flying Dutchman.
“You’re a pretty thing,” he said softly. He loved these ships, their delicate beauty as they floated through the starry void.
“Thank you, Captain.” The ship-mind sounded happy with the compliment—his imagination running wild. Minds didn’t have real emotions, though they sometimes approximated them.
He cross-checked the heading to be sure they remained on course to deliver their payload, the man-sized seed that was being dragged on a tether behind the ship. Humanity’s ticket to the stars at a time when life on Earth was getting rapidly worse.
All of space was spread out before him, seen through the clear expanse of plasform set into the ship’s living walls. His own face, trimmed blond hair, and deep brown eyes, stared back at him, superimposed over the vivid starscape.
At thirty, Colin was in the prime of his career. He was a starship captain, and yet sometimes he felt like little more than a bus driver. After this run… well, he’d have to see what other opportunities might be awaiting him. Maybe the doc was right, and this was the start of a whole new chapter for mankind. They might need a guy like him.
The walls of the bridge emitted a faint but healthy golden glow, providing light for his work at the curved mechanical console that filled half the room. He traced out the T-Line to their destination. “Dressler, we’re looking a little wobbly.” Colin frowned. Some irregularity in the course was common—the ship was constantly adjusting its trajectory—but she usually corrected it before he noticed.
“Affirmative, Captain.” The ship-mind’s miniature chosen likeness appeared above the touch board. She was all professional today, dressed in a standard AmSplor uniform, dark hair pulled back in a bun, and about a third life-sized.
The image was nothing more than a projection of the ship-mind, a fairy tale, but Colin appreciated the effort she took to humanize her appearance. Artificial mind or not, he always treated minds with respect.
“There’s a blockage in arm four. I’ve sent out a scout to correct it.”
The Dressler was well into slowdown now, her pre-arrival phase as she bled off her speed, and they expected to reach 43 Ariadne in another fifteen hours.
Pity no one had yet cracked the whole hyperspace thing. Colin chuckled. Asimov would be disappointed. “Dressler, show me Earth, please.”
A small blue dot appeared in the middle of his screen.
“Dressler, three dimensions, a bit larger, please.” The beautiful blue-green world spun before him in all its glory.
Appearances could be deceiving. Even with scrubbers working tirelessly night and day to clean the excess carbon dioxide from the air, the home world was still running dangerously warm.
He watched the image in front of him as the East Coast of the North American Union spun slowly into view. Florida was a sliver of its former self, and where New York City’s lights had once shone, there was now only blue. If it had been night, Fargo, the capital of the Northern States, would have outshone most of the other cities below. The floods that had wiped out many of the world’s coastal cities had also knocked down Earth’s population, which was only now reaching the levels it had seen in the early twenty-first century.
All those new souls had been born into a warm, arid world.
We did it to ourselves. Colin, who had known nothing besides the hot planet he called home, wondered what it had been like those many years before the Heat.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first story in fifth grade, a Jetsons clone with full color illustrations. By high school, I was working on my first novel, and I sent it to ten publishers when I was twenty five. They all promptly rejected it. Well, when I say promptly, I mean over the course of a year.
I dropped out.
Twenty years later, I tried again, and within a few months, I sold my first story. The rest, as they say, is history.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
“The Stark Divide” is told in three parts – each separated by a number of years. The hardest part was probably figuring out the three different stories in a way that would feel connected and seamless to the reader. The characters form the common thread that makes it all work.
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
“The Stark Divide” features my fourth transgender character, and it was great to write Eddy as a guy who just happens to be transgender. There’s also a lesbian character, though we don’t know that yet, so keep a lid on it? Future books in the series will explore other identities.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
Part time. My husband Mark and I run a queer business, so I have to take my writing time when I can find it. I would love to write more, but I’m not sure if I could do it full time – it can be really intense at times. But another hour or two a day would be pretty awesome.
Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
Aaron Anderson did the cover. I met Aaron last March at the DSP retreat and pitched him the idea, and when the time came, I chose him. I’ve also worked with Anne Cain, who did my amazing “Skythane” cover – but I wanted a different feel for “The Stark Divide.” Aaron turned in two options that I loved, but neither one quite matched the world I’d created. I asked him to try again, and he came back with the amazing cover that’s on the final book.
About the Author
Scott spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Enticed into fantasy and sci fi by his mom at the tender age of nine, he devoured her Science Fiction Book Club library. But as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were in the books he was reading.
He decided that it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at his local bookstore. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s mind works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He loves to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
Starting in 2014, Scott has published more than 15 works, including two novels and a number of novellas and short stories.
He runs both Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own lives.