This is my first post for the CSFF Blog Tour. I'm thrilled to be here. I average one to two posts a week so three posts in three days is going to be challenging, but Bryan Davis has provided some excellent material to work from. I have not read any of Davis's previous works so my evaluation of his writing is necessarily limited to this book. In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. Please note that spoilers loom dead ahead. Today's post will focus on genre. Where does the first installment in Davis's Dragons of Starlight series fall on the fantasy to science fiction continuum?
Marketed to young adults, Starlighter features a fast-paced narrative set on two planets--Starlight, where the dragons roam, and Darksphere, where the humans live. (The humans call the planets Dracon and Major Four, respectively.) The two worlds are connected by a portal which has long been in disuse. The people of Mesolantrum, the country from which the human characters on Darksphere hail, have forgotten the portal's location and most dismiss it as a figment of legend, although a few militants search for the portal and keep the stories alive through a newsletter called The Underground Gateway. The old stories say that a dragon once came through the portal and kidnapped some humans, known as the Lost Ones, to work as slaves in mines. One of the captives, Uriel Blackstone, escaped and locked the portal but the people in Mesolantrum thought the man insane. The authorities in Mesolantrum locked him up and work to suppress speculation about the the Lost Ones. The dragons on Starlight rely on a gas trapped deep underground to maintain their strength. The human slaves mine it and then release it into the atmosphere. The slaves on Starlight have stories about their origins that say they were brought to the dragon planet from another world. The dragons tell them different stories, leaving the slaves divided as to their origins. The novel alternates between Jason Masters, a resident of Darksphere who hopes to free the slaves, and Koren, a slave on Starlight with a special gift.
That's the story's premise, a conflict between dragons and humans. It sounds like standard fantasy, although the placement of the dragons and humans on different planets throws in an interesting twist. Portals and magic doorways to other worlds are nothing new and calling the homes of the dragons and humans planets as opposed to worlds is a matter of semantics. But Davis does not stop with multiple planets in his genre bending. In the novel's initial scene, Jason Masters and Randall Prescott are about to fight a duel with swords in the final round of a tournament. That sounds very medieval. Jason outsmarts his opponent and receives applause and a green laurel for a prize. We also learn that the society is divided into nobles who govern and common folk who know their place and do farming work. Jason comes from common stock and hopes to raise his status, like his brother Adrian, through his military skills. That also sounds like typical fantasy. But in the next scene with Jason, we find him holding a "Courier's tube" with a flashing message. In order to access the video message inside the tube, one has to provide genetic material, a piece of hair for instance, to prove one's identity. How did we go from swords to advanced electronics and chemistry? Davis does not explain it. Later in the scene, Jason and his brother Adrian talk about photo guns. These guns shoot balls of energy that incinerate their target. Unfortunately for the user, they take time to charge up between discharges and they don't work if they become wet. I thought of them as the blunderbuss of ray guns. Jason hopes to be trained to use a photo gun--the technology is limited to a privileged few--but considers his sword more reliable. There is no mention of guns based on gunpowder or any other type of explosive.
I find these jumps from relatively primitive to highly advanced technology disconcerting. In contrast to the advanced technical gadgets, the story contains what appear to be some magical objects. The dragons have a crystal sphere which can detect someone's honesty, giving its readings as clear, black, or shades of gray. A finger-shaped object is burned into Jason's chest. The object is sensitive to one's deeds of heroism and sacrifice, glowing different colors based on one's level of heroism. It also heightens one's senses and can guide the person bearing it to the portal. The glow also helps the bearer see in the dark.
In a recent post Fantasy or Science Fiction?, I discussed the differences between the genres. Fantasy features magic with very little explanation of how it works while science fiction tends toward explanations of the advanced science and its impact on society. While Starlighter includes elements that would normally be associated with science fiction, Davis does not focus on how the technology works or its impact on society. According to the definitions, Starlighter is on the fantasy end of the spectrum.
What I do not understand is the reason for including such items as the Courier tube and the photo gun. The message could have been delivered in other ways, perhaps a magical illustration that comes to life or an old-fashioned letter. The photo gun proves ineffective against the dragons.
For more information on Bryan Davis and Starlighter, visit the author's blog or website.
For more commentary on Starlighter from other tour members, visit their blogs listed below.
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Rachel Starr Thomson