cover image The Black Sun

The Black Sun

Jack Williamson. Tor Books, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85937-4

Ninety-nine starships have been sent out from Earth using an experimental quantum drive. Their mission is to seed the galaxy with humanity, their exact destinations are unknown. The last of the ships ends up in the system of the Black Sun, a dying dwarf star circled by one frozen planet. Soon after landing, the crew of the starship finds itself in near mutiny, their respected captain having been replaced just before launch by a self-serving bureaucrat who knows little about the ship's mission and cares less. There's evidence that the frozen planet is, or once was, inhabited. Mysterious, rainbow-colored lights appear in the distance, and the explorers find small, multisided black beads that give off strange, psychic emanations. A number of crew members begin to act oddly and eventually disappear while on an exploratory mission, leaving their rover and somehow marching three kilometers across the airless, frozen waste without the benefit of spacesuits. SFWA grandmaster Williamson (The Humanoids, etc.), who will turn 89 this year, sets up an intriguing mystery in this tale that mixes quantum physics with a decidedly old-fashioned pulp-adventure plot. His language is merely serviceable, and his characters, especially the villains, are little more than cardboard. What's important here, however, is that essential SF attribute, the sense of wonder, which Williamson once again generates in spades by skillfully evoking an unknown, alien planet and the inhuman intelligences who once populated it (Feb.) FYI: Williamson's first science fiction story appeared in 1928.