An immense space opera but flawed in the execution!
May 2, 2010
You've got to hand it to Gotlieb!
When it came to developing a space opera plot outline of immense galactic proportions, she certainly didn't hold back. Environmental degradation on the planet Shar led to what their historians called "The Change". Women have devolved into little more than wombs - birth chambers, barely alive, and certainly not enjoying anything one might call a quality of life. Men can teleport but with virtually no control over the ability to do so. Long before Shar had degraded to this bleak current condition, a small number of brave pioneers, now called Meshar had left and colonized a bleak planetary corner of the galaxy known as Barrazan V. Aliens now want to plunder Shar's rich resource wealth, the emperor of Shar wants to bring back the Meshar women to reverse the evolutionary decline of the planet and the Galactic Federation is caught in the middle of everything.
You'd think that a plot like that could hardly fail. After all, it's so obviously rich with fodder for character development, political intrigue, alien interaction and all of the other "stuff" that made classics like "Dune" such rewarding reading that one could return time and time again finding new insights with every reading. But the sad fact is that "Birthstones" falls entirely flat. This book is simply too short. A story of such immense proportions cannot help but take time in the telling - character development, history of the environmental degradation of Shar, the politics of the Galactic Federation, the fear that the ladies of Meshar have at the prospect of returning to their heritage in Shar, and so on. But Gotlieb's novel is, frankly, so brief - a mere 215 pages - that the story becomes an unintelligible, near meaningless mash of dialogue and hurried events that elicited not one whit of emotion in this reader. The characters were so undeveloped that they were little more than names. And, of course, these names were so foreign and alien to our English tongue that it became virtually impossible to tell one character from another.
Double or triple the length. Take the time to develop things more carefully and lovingly. Then "Birthstones" may live up to Gotlieb's reputation as a Nebula Award nominee. I'm going to try it again to see if the plot becomes more meaningful on second reading but, as it stands, it's difficult to recommend "Birthstones" to a science fiction fan at all.