Between the Strokes of Night

Reviewer: Sukrit Ranjan

Author: Charles Sheffield

Published: 1985

Reviewed: 2006-12-04

Publisher: Baen Books

"Between the Strokes of Night," by Charles Sheffield is an absolutely
fantastic book; just how fantastic may be given by the fact I'm
writing my first note on it when I should really be finishing up my
physics problem set, and studying and sleeping for my 18.022 test in
the morning.

Among its many positives is the fact that is has actual new,
innovative hard sci-fi. For those who don't know what that is, as I
understand it, sci-fi primarily motivated by a new technology or
scientific principle, or group or set thereof. Hard sci-fi
predominated during sci-fi's early days, but eventually writers began
to move on, because

1) many of the more easy-to-use technologies and principles had
already been used, and what remained was either too abstruse to
readily use or simply not different/interesting enough

2) writers fell into the trap of writing "genre" novels like space
opera or sword and sorcery (not a condemnation, just a note)

3) and most common, writers switched to soft sci-fi, focusing more on
social, economic innovations, changes, etc.---a greater focus on
the human side of things.

Sheffield has done the increasingly rare and created a strong,
innovative hard SF novel. What's even more amazing is that he hasn't
done a half-bad job with the soft SF part either---a lot of focus on
humans, from the societies and great destinies level to the individual
human trying to live and find a place and navigate this huge
intimidating place we call "universe." In addition, the novel
contains a number of very well-written scenes; in my mind, the nuclear
war scene is particularly well done, both impressively evoked and
properly dazed and grim. The novel is also noteworthy for its lack of
sex scenes, far too common in much recent SF and fantasy; it is
powerful enough that it stands independent of these methods as a
reader draw, again quite a testament to it.

Finally, I really liked some of what Sheffield had done with certain
themes. In particular, I really liked with how he dealt with life,
death, time and existence, our fears of the them and how we deal with
them, love, family and legacy. I say this in such a mouthful because
I really felt he gave them a pretty unified treatment, analyzing them
in mutual context and delivering quite a beautiful if occasionally
heart-wrenching vision. The prologue tied in very nicely to this whole
theme, slowly revealed throughout the book, keeping you waiting till
the very end. Additionally, I felt it gave a wonderful affirmation,
vision and treatment of faith and hope, and did not muddle it with
optimism as too many do. The epilogue especially rings in my mind
with respect to this theme. Very powerful.

In summary, this was an excellent book, and I would recommend it to
most people.