City Book Review: Through a Forest of Stars


I wrote an editorial review for Through a Forest of Stars.  I loved it!  Here’s my review:

Through a Forest of Stars kicks off in 2217, where Earth is in rough shape and the recently settled Mars isn’t doing any better. Unsure how to improve the situation on either planet, humanity explores the stars for resources. And after years of finding only rocks in neighboring star systems, the unexpected discovery of a planet-sized Garden of Eden triggers a race between Earth and Mars to claim the new world (dubbed Silvanus by its purported discoverers).

Representative ships from both planets reach Silvanus at around the same time, and a jaw-dropping series of events leaves planetary geologist Aiden Macallen the one-and-only human being on the surface. He and his AI companion Hutton discover a lush world inhabited only by plant life, including a strange, possibly sentient fungus that seems eager to provide Aiden with food and shelter. At length, he and Hutton make the startling discovery that the planet is in danger—that Silvanus is choked with life, like a sheep collapsing under its own weight, in desperate need of shearing. And Aidan, much to his surprise, may hold the key to the planet’s survival.

Author David C. Jeffrey shows tremendous writing chops in his debut, combining the hard science of writers like Robert L. Forward and Andy Weir with Arthur C. Clarke’s optimism, curiosity, and penchant for evolved intelligence. Suffused throughout is a style all his own, showing a downright spiritual love for nature and concern for Earth’s wellbeing. The dialogue is a joy to read, especially between Aiden and Hutton, who often discuss music, how memory works, and what it means to be self-aware. And there’s no “Chekov’s gun” here—their thoughtful conversations foreshadow and give context to their experiences on Sylvanus, making the whole novel feel carefully crafted and satisfyingly tight.

The book occasionally cuts away from Aiden’s point of view to focus on other threads, many of which I found, frankly, far less interesting. In particular, two early chapters from the point of view of Earth’s president slowed the pace to a crawl with mind-numbing historical details, conveyed with the dry prose of a legal brief’s statement of facts. Although these sections (which had little to do with the president herself) are clearly meant to enrich Jeffrey’s crafted world and comprise only a tiny portion of the book’s 441 pages, they and most of the other threads never felt salient.

Especially patient readers may have an easier time with these sporadic interruptions, while others will find themselves thumbing ahead to see when they can get back to Aiden’s story. Still—and I can’t stress this enough—Through a Forest of Stars is a fantastic book. In fact, my minor quibble aside, David C. Jeffrey’s debut is one of the most satisfying and imaginative science fiction novels of the year. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today.