Sunday, December 05, 2010

STAR SAPPHIRE by Han May

Before I go on with the review of Star Sapphire, I had the opportunity to meet with Joan Hon, author of this fine novel in October during her book talk. From left to right: Nigel Pendrigh, Jo Lau with her 5-year-old Chris, Yours Truly, and the author Joan Jon.

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Star Sapphire
By Han May
Publisher: Nova Books
Published: 1988
ISBN-13: 9810008900
376 pages

I hardly read local authors (I do not want to appear as a snob, though) and I will probably not be aware of Star Sapphire if Jo Lau, a new friend of mine did not bring this to my attention. Jo and I are complete strangers until July this year, thanks to the Internet that had brought us together.

I did not expect to enjoy the sci-fi novel as much as I thought I would, but now I am glad I read it because Star Sapphire is great. Although sci-fi, it sure reads like a contemporary novel; the characters feel and act in the same way as anyone would today. It "feels" different from the novels I have read and it does have a more "local" flavor to it. I cannot quite articulate how I feel but I think it is the way it is written. Yet, it manages to touch me and draws me into the story.

I found myself eager to know what would happen to Yva Yolan (the female protagonist who is half human, half alien) and the important people she crosses path with when she accepted the job on-board the spaceship Star Sapphire. There she meets with the two main male characters, Timothy Huha the Chief Personnel Officer and Adam Zear, also known as the Registrar.

There are four rules governing all the crew members of the spaceship and one of them is Rule 4: The m.c. (member of crew) is forbidden to engage in any relationship related to courtship and all acts related to it. In short, no romance is allowed. Yet, Tim (who knows this rule very well) and Yva seem to be falling for each other. As you read on, you would notice that the Registrar has feelings for Yva too. Yva who thinks that she is just a very plain looking girl without much of a special ability unlike her other counterparts on the ship, could not quite understand why Tim would pay attention to her.

I enjoyed the camaraderie on-board the ship and Yva, the new girl on-board, pretty soon fits herself well into the day-to-day setting. One day, something goes terribly wrong during a particular assignment and Yva is sucked into a Black Hole. Rule 2 says that the m.c. (member of crew) must refrain from jeopardizing his own safety under all circumstance, even in the course of saving another endangered person. Defying the rule, the Registrar being an important, if not the most important man of the ship, jumps right in without knowing if there is any chance of survival for both of them. He, too, is on the assignment but he left slightly earlier. Some physics kick in at this point and I actually enjoyed reading them. I cannot say I understood what I read, but still, I was a student of science (physics was my weakest subject) once upon a time. So, did Adam and Yva survive the fatal incident? You would have to read it.

Joan has a way of drawing you into the story and make you feel for the characters. I mentioned this once: Between Tim and Adam the Registrar, I like them both, but it is the latter that won my heart. Many parts of the book got me teary-eyed because I feel for Yva so much that it hurts. As I read the story, I could sense the Biblical connection and the author has built that into fiction. There are some slow parts and I felt that they could have been excluded from the book.

I really hope this book will be turned into an e-book and be made available on the Kindle edition (and other e-Readers) because then it will reach a wider audience. The author did express that as part of her plan for her books.

Star Sapphire won a High Commendation Award from the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) in 1986. Han May is the pen-name of Joan Hon, an award-winning author. Joan is a scientist and published author from Singapore. She was also awarded a Commendation prize for her book Relatively Speaking on her father and childhood memories in Penang. Thank you, Joan, for the copy of Star Sapphire. Thank you, Jo Lau, for introducing me to Joan!

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1 on page 7:

Starliner

It was not proper, said my grandmother, for a girl to venture into space. If one needed help in a hurry, she said, think of all the light years separating one from where help might be forthcoming.


Since Grandmother had gone into space herself—else how would she have come all the way from Ganymede to marry Grandfather?—I took her remarks lightly. The fact that my parents had died in space was forever dangled by her before my mind as the best possible deterrent to my own compulsion to set off amongst the stars.

I argued within myself that my parents had died in space because they themselves had wanted it that way. They had been happy there, they had lived their time out there—for whatever reasons—and they had chosen in all probability to depart from there. One might argue that one should not be on Terra for the same reason: all my other ancestors had passed away on Terra, with most of them in bed. Hence, being in bed on Terra was the most hazardous place in the Universe to be!

That was how Gran herself finally went: in bed, after a short illness, and on New Terra. [...]

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