In Review: The Stark Divide

A science fiction novel with a classic premise that delivers drama, action, technology, and heart.

The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth

Published by DSP Publications, October 10, 2017. Paperback of 272 pages at $16.99. Also available as an ebook.

The cover: Aaron Anderson has created a very tech heavy civilization for this frontpiece that grabbed my eye before opening the book. I like seeing futuristic architecture because it’s inspiring; it should be a place the reader wants to visit. The lack of characters on the cover could be done either to showcase this civilization or to foreshadow the lack of people. Either way, this is a good cover. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Some stories are epic. The Earth is in a state of collapse, with wars breaking out over resources and an environment pushed to the edge by human greed. Three living generation ships have been built with a combination of genetic mastery, artificial intelligence, technology, and raw materials harvested from the asteroid belt. This is the story of one of them—43 Ariadne, or Forever, as her inhabitants call her—a living world that carries the remaining hopes of humanity, and the three generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers working to colonize her. From her humble beginnings as a seedling saved from disaster to the start of her journey across the void of space toward a new home for the human race, The Stark Divide tells the tales of the world, the people who made her, and the few who will become something altogether beyond human. Humankind has just taken its first step toward the stars.” This summary gives away too much of what the book is about. I don’t read premises for books I’m reviewing until after I’ve read the novel, and this has spoiler information. Overall grade: B-

The characters: The three individuals whose lives have the most importance to this book, which is divided into three parts spanning thirty years, are Colin McAvery, Anastasia Anatov, and Jackson Hammond. McAvery is captain of the Dressler, a living ship with a crew of three, including himself, that is transporting a seed, a container that carries the biological matter of Earth to colonize a world. McAvery wants to get the job done with everyone able to return home. In the final two parts of the novel he finds himself thrust into different jobs with different threats. He’s a level headed fellow, who mellows quite nicely with age. Anatov is the ship’s doctor whose father helped create the living ships that are essential to Earth’s survival. She values science’s ability to solve problems and dismisses those who cannot follow its logic. By no means a cold fish of a character, as the book progresses she reveals her heart. Hammond is the engineer who discovers a problem on the Dressler that will change the course of human history. He is a religious man that wants to get home to his wife and children. He has the most dramatic changes of the characters, yet he remains the most calming individual of the novel. There are several new characters introduced in each part of the book, but to discuss them would spoil things about these three protagonists and the plot. Suffice to say, all of these characters were incredibly engaging. Overall grade: A+

The settings: The Dressler is the sole setting of the first part. It’s a living ship with a problem that must be solved or its crew will die. It was written very realistically for a ship that was an overgrown starfish with metallic interiors. I loved this setting and thought it to be the best realized by author Coastworth. The setting of Part Two is the most idyllic of the book. Without spoiling it, the setting is believable for where the novel needs to go, but was too similar to many other science fiction stories I have read. It was not bad, only predictable. One area where Anatov ends up was intriguing, as I’d not encountered that location in a sci-fi novel before. Part Three was set in two different locales: Earth and a colony. There’s a smattering of information about the state of Earth and I would have enjoyed hearing more about it, but the story doesn’t need much shown to motivate the characters it focuses on. It would have been an entirely different novel had it focused on Earth, but Coatsworth makes it so intriguing. The colony was very realistically written, especially with how characters are functioning within it. It was much more real than the setting of Part Two. It’s a location I would like to read more about. Overall grade: A-

The action: I could not read the first part of this novel quickly enough. I was riveted by the action and the mystery of what was occurring to the characters and concerned with their ability to escape from their plight. It was the perfect hook to get me to continue reading. Part Two was not as exciting, due to one character doing something that seemed out of character and creating a situation that others had to deal with. This was the slowest part of the novel. Better was the final part, with a multitude of characters in a dire situation, with focus given to two new individuals. Overall grade: B+

The conclusion: Terrific ending to this novel, with the promise of more to come, as this is the first book in the Liminal Sky saga. I felt strong emotional attachment to the characters and was left with the greatest feeling one can have at the end of this type of book: What’s next? Completely satisfying if this is as far as a reader goes, but I really what to know what happens next. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: A science fiction novel with a classic premise that delivers drama, action, technology, and heart. I haven’t felt this way after reading a sci-fi book since reading an Asimov or Heinlein novel. Coatsworth is to be congratulated for capturing the spirit of those writers and creating a new tale that will make readers look to the starts. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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