New York Times Book Review
Ship of Foolsby Richard Paul Russo
Home to generations of humans, the starship Argonos has wandered aimlessly throughout the galaxy for hundreds of years, desperately searching for other signs of life. Now, a steady, unidentified transmission lures them toward a nearby planet, where the grisly remains of a former colony await the crew. Haunted by what they have seen, the crew has no choice but to follow when another signal beckons the Argonos into deep space—and into the dark heart of an alien mystery...
“[Russo] is not afraid to take on the question of evil in a divinely ordered universe...This is an ambitious novel of ideas that generates considerable suspense while respecting its sources, its characters, and most important, the reader.”—The New York Times
“A tale of high adventure and personal drama in the far future.”—Library Journal
“Relentlessly suspenseful...full of mystery...very exciting.”—Science Fiction Chronicle
New York Times Book Review
Science Fiction Chronicle
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Ship of Fools
By Richard Paul Russo
Ace BooksCopyright © 2001 Richard Paul Russo
All right reserved.
We had not made landfall in more than fourteen years.
One disastrous choice of a star after another. The captain viewed this string of failures as absurdly bad luck; the bishop, as divine intervention. Either way, I saw it as prelude to the captain's downfall, which would almost certainly mean my own downfall as well.
When we detected a transmission from the world that would later be called Antioch, I sensed opportunity. But opportunity for whom? The captain, or his enemies? It was impossible to say. The captain's position was tenuous at best, and everything was uncertain aboard the Argonos.
I was exploring one of the dark, abandoned vaults of disabled machinery deep in the core of the ship, studying a length of cable scorched and fused at one end, neatly severed at the other. Shiny blackened metal sparkled in the light of my hand torch. The air was warm and stuffy and smelled faintly of burnt plastic and old lubricants. There were dozens of such rooms on the Argonos, some quite small, others like this one--large vaulted chambers that had become dumping grounds for machinery that had ceased to function and which could no longer be repaired or salvaged. I loved those rooms and spent hours in them, hoping to find some engine or device I could rebuild and bring back to life.
I swung the hand torch around, widened the beam, and aimed it upward. Great, massive chains hung from the ceiling far above, shiny silver-blue stars of reflection glittering down at me as if the metal were wet and dripping. Entwined in one of them was a longer section of cable much like the one I held in my hand; it, too, appeared to be severed, near the point where it emerged from the bottom link. I was mystified.
A winged creature flapped through the beam, an amorphous shadow that seemed to flicker in and out of existence as it flew. It swerved abruptly and dove. Eyes gleamed at me for a moment; then the creature canted away and out of the light with a hushed flutter of air.
A terrible grinding vibrated through the chamber and I instinctively snapped off the hand torch. The grinding slowly faded, but was followed by scraping noises and the clanging of metal against metal. I stood motionless, listening, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Dull red glowed in the distance, a glow that seemed to gradually brighten.
The scraping and clanging ceased, replaced by a low, deep rumble. Then I heard a voice. Too faint, too distant to make out, yet familiar.
I wanted to get closer, but trying to move blindly through all that broken and rusted machinery would be dangerous as well as noisy. I adjusted the hand torch to its dimmest setting, aimed it down at the floor, and turned it back on. There was just enough light to see my footing; I decided the risk of detection was low, and moved forward.
Progress was slow: the way was rarely clear, I was trying to be quiet, and my club foot was a minor hindrance. As I got closer, I felt even warmer; sweat trickled down my sides, itching. Sometimes I heard the voice, sometimes more scraping or banging, sometimes grunting. The red glow intensified as I neared it, and soon it was bright enough to light my way.
A horrendous metallic squealing tore at my eardrums and brought me to a halt. It ceased abruptly, and I was just about to take another step when I heard the voice again; this time I recognized it: Bishop Soldano. His deep, resonant baritone was unmistakable, though I still could not make out any words. Who was he talking to? Himself?
My exoskeleton vibrated twice in succession, and I silently cursed. It was a signal from the captain. I felt a nagging irritation, more at myself than at Nikos; the signaling system had been my idea, and this wasn't the first time I'd regretted it. I ignored it and crept forward, pulled myself across a tangle of wire mesh between two huge rusting cylinders, then through a corroded structure of bent and twisted metal rods.
I was seven or eight meters above the floor of a large, hollowed-out bay. Below me were the bishop, three shirtless men, and two enormous pieces of machinery that dwarfed the men beside them. One machine was dark and lifeless, resting on a crude, wheeled platform. The other shook and rumbled and glowed a deep red from rings of crimson-tinted lights circling the upper cylindrical section; pipe and cable snaked up from the floor, feeding into the base, and heat radiated from it in waves. The three men strained at the platform, pushing it closer and struggling to align the massive couplings of the two machines.
The bishop watched, frowning and silent now. In the red glow, his large, shaved head glistened with beads of sweat. He was a big man, nearly two full meters in height and a hundred and twenty-five kilos or more in weight. He wore a plain black cassock and heavy black boots.
The wheeled platform stopped moving, less than a meter from the rumbling engine, and the three men fell back, exhausted. They were drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. The bishop stepped forward, and I thought he was going to shout at them, but he only nodded.
"Good," he said. "Once more, men. Once more and we'll be there."
The three men looked up at him, then rose together and leaned into the platform, grunting and straining again. The platform barely moved, the wheels turning almost imperceptibly, scraping the floor; then it lurched forward, and the two machines united with a loud and satisfying crash.
The bishop smiled; when he did, the three men smiled with him, and the expression on their faces was one of admiration ... and worship. The bishop stepped forward, attached cables and plugs, worked some levers and wheels; then the second machine came to life.
Everything about the machines changed now. The rumble quieted, overcome by a steady thrum, an electric vibration that seemed to penetrate muscle, even bone. The bishop's smile broadened, and he gazed at the great engines as he might upon his congregation, his skin glowing and his eyes shining. He put his hand on the shoulder of the nearest man and nodded.
"Good work, men. Good work."
The bishop watched for another minute or two, as if lost in a trance. Then he nodded to himself, still smiling, and shut down both machines, bringing silence and darkness to the chamber.
A few moments later a lantern came to life. Stark shadows fluttered all around them, and I pulled back farther within the metal cage.
"Let us go," the bishop said. "A good day's work, and we will have many more. Our day is coming."
The man with the lantern led the way, the bishop followed, and the two other men came last, walking side by side. They walked up a wide, gently sloping ramp, then out through a large opening in the chamber walls and into a broad corridor. Long after I lost sight of them, I could see the gradually fading light moving up and down, side to side.
The bishop was building a machine. It was not the first, and probably not the last--if anything, the bishop was more fascinated with these old devices and engines than I was. I switched on the hand torch and cast its full beam on the lifeless metal below me. What was it? I had no idea, but with the bishop involved I felt distinctly uncomfortable, even afraid.
The exoskeleton vibrated once again. I'd been able to ignore it all this time, but I couldn't anymore. Whatever the captain wanted me for, it had to be important. I turned away from the bishop's machine, and made my way back.
Excerpted from Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo Copyright © 2001 by Richard Paul Russo.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Easily one of the best science fiction novels ever. Not space opera, but rife with allegory and moral dillema. You will be glad to have read this.
The novel keeps you on the edge of your seat. Intelligent, thoughtful, and exceedingly well written. I just read it agian for the first time since it was published. It gets better with age.
The Argonas is a gigantic spaceship that houses thousands of people while visiting different galaxies. The residents on board have lived on the ship for generations and have lost sight of their original mission or who even built the craft. Inside the ship, is a city structure with two classes of people: the ruling oligarchy and the downsiders who provide forced manual labor. The latter have no rights or freedoms. The travelers have not touched down in a planet in twelve years, but now receive a signal from a place capable of sustaining life. The leaders decide to explore the planet. Humans once colonized Antioch, but when the visitors arrive they find the horrible site of numerous skeletons hanging from hooks in an alien-like chamber. They flee rather quickly, but soon stumble across an alien space ship as big as their own. No one seems aboard as members of the Argonas explore the vessel, unaware of that they have let loose on their own population. Space opera was never quite like this tale. Anyone who were enthralled by the aliens from the movie Alien will love Richard Paul Russo¿s latest masterpiece, SHIP OF FOOLS. The title is appropriate. The author creates a shocker of an ending that no one could have predicted, probably not even the author when he was drafting the novel. Even the day-to-day details of life on the spaceship seem fascinating as readers are simply hooked by a wonderful plot that would make a powerful movie. Harriet Klausner
All I can ask is 'Why???'. It's disappointing that he makes no attempt to explain the motives of the aliens. Without that, I am left with a truly empty feeling after having finished this book. To be quite honest, I did not enjoy the book much at all. I was in for the ride in order to find out what the motivation of the aliens was. No such luck.
I have read many books of the Sci Fi jenre and this is the best. The character deveopment is excellent and you can feel for the main character. The story starts and it just keeps going. I read the whole 370 pages in less then 2 days. The first person view adds a certian touch that does a lot for the mood. This is a must read for science fiction readers everywhere
The book was basically one of the best that I have ever read. I picked it up thinking that it would be easy read-a way to pass the time, and boy was I wrong. Russo mixes common plot characteristics mixes them toghether and in the end they turn out to be absolutely differen, original and beyond belief.
why do they have the wrong author info?
Not only was this book excruciatingly slow but the author has a brilliant way of hooking you into thinking you are in for a shocking twist. Therefore, you are forced to trudge through the text, always hoping for the sudden aha moment when you are rewarded for your investment. The moment never comes. Even worse, the ending is almost insulting in its refusal to explain even one reason behind the alien's motives. And, no hint to where the characters lives are headed. This was one of the most frustrating reading experiences I've ever had. All I can say is, don't bother. I'll never read anything by this author again.
I had to skip-read the last 20 pages, just so I could get to work on time the next day. This is nothing short of brilliant: 'real' characters showing good and bad sides: evocative imagery: a true sense of nasty evil, and a (kind of) moral. The best fiction book in any genre I've read in the last ten years.
Given the rave reviews printed on the cover, I bought this book. Unfortunately, the epic proportions of the story never materialized. This book has little character development, other than narrative commentary by the main character. The motivation of the aliens is never even approached. They're just evil - end of story. There is some suspense and mystery, but it is never resolved with any satisfaction. I was left with a profound feeling of having wasted my time. Skip the reviews printed on the cover. The writers of the reviews apparently never read the book. I gave it 2 stars since it is a space exploration story, but I'm still torn between a 1 star and 2 star rating.