Stardance: A dated double-award winner

Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson science fiction book reviewsStardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Stardance II. The two stories were combined into the novel Stardance, which is the version I read.

The original novella is about a beautiful dancer named Shara who is tall, large (all muscle) and buxom. Shara is a brilliant dancer, she literally makes people who watch her weep, but she can’t find a dancing company to take her because she’s not petite.

Shara hatches a desperate plan: she starts sleeping with a rich disabled man who is willing to take her out to space and hire a cameraman (the narrator of our story) to film her as she dances in zero gravity. Then a swarm of alien bees arrive and threaten the Earth. Shara is the only one who can save humanity. (This is where the original award-winning novella ends.)

In the sequel, the cameraman and Shara’s sister decide to create a dance company. They build a dance studio in space, then recruit dancers who, like Shara, have lots of talent but feel like misfits. They take them up to space and train them to dance in zero G. There they learn more about the aliens, and about humans, and discover that their experiences as dancers in space may change them permanently.

Despite its multiple award-wining status, I cannot say that I enjoyed Stardance. I recognize that the story, written in the 1970s, was innovative for its time, and that it has some lovely things to say about the joy and sorrow of being human and even the possibility of transcending humanity in the future. It’s an interesting, novel, and beautiful idea to express this through dance instead of language. I love to watch dance so, if I had been watching Shara perform the Stardance, rather than reading about Shara performing the Stardance, this almost certainly would have come across a lot better. But, unfortunately, reading about dancing, even profound and philosophical dancing, isn’t too exciting.

Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s narrative style doesn’t help. It’s way too much dialogue with too many infodumps and annoying wisecracks. Judging by this story, the first I’ve read by the authors, I find their sense of humor unappealing. And everything feels dated — the dialogue, the jokes, the vocabulary, the way men and women interact with each other, the references to dropping acid and smoking roaches.

And I never got over the supposition that a woman who is a skilled dancer can’t be one if she’s tall and buxom unless she bribes men with sex. That bugged me throughout the entire story.

It feels wrong to criticize an old book for being old and lacking modern sensibilities, but it’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy Stardance, and I think that’s legitimate.

Oh, and just one more annoying thing: Shara looks nothing like the skinny woman on the cover of the hardback edition shown above. Shara is large and busty (but not fat, the authors want you to know).

The 8-hour long audio version I listened to was narrated by Spider Robinson himself. I’ve heard him narrate Heinlein’s stories, and he’s a really great reader. I love to hear authors reading their own work.

Published in 1977. Shara Drummond was a gifted dancer and a brilliant choreographer, but she could not pursue her dream of dancing on Earth. So she went to space, creating a new art form in three dimensions. And when the aliens arrived, there was only one way to prove that the human race deserved not just to survive, but to reach the stars. The only hope was Shara, with her stardance.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. Given the state of current special effects, doesn’t it seem like the first novella would make an excellent short film now? Dancing in space…!

  2. I just the ending was incredibly cheesy. Perhaps nuclear bombs to save the world from alien invasion? No. Perhaps a fleet of spacesships? No. Perhaps an engineered plague? No. Perhaps a display of modern dance? …

  3. This book sounds … very odd. :) Thanks for the review, Kat!

  4. It *is* an older book. It read a tad dated for me even at the time – but then I was never a part of the culture that Spider Robinson was immersed in. Robinson credits R.A. Heinlein as one of his great influences and I think it shows. Spider’s social conscience is always a big influence as well. Looked at as a sort of ‘space opera with a self-conscious modern (in the ’70’s) twist’ it works. Kind of. At the time.

    And yes, Spider Robinson’s humour can be a bit…cheesy/dated. Works for him in other efforts. Might help if you like ‘dad jokes’.

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