Stardrifter: Playground

Book review

settings scifi

I'm reading the Stardrifter series by David Collins-Rivera, and reviewing each book as I finish it. The short story Playground is a story about the back alleys, or equivalent thereof, on a space station. This review contains minor spoilers.

This story is difficult to parse because it's written in the voice of a homeless guy with a unique interpretation of his surroundings. I have a strong appreciation for fiction written so soundly from a fictional character's point of view that the reader isn't entirely sure how to comprehend it. I've tried this trick myself before, but in early books and I wasn't always successful, because as an author I think you can fall prey to the self-imposed expectation that you need to explain your story to your reader. That expectation isn't without merit. We read stories because we want a story, and the mundane (or unhinged, or disconnected, or whatever the hook is) observations of a character's world isn't always the best way to convey a plot.

The story, such as it is, of Playground is accordingly kept very simple. It boils down to a single encounter between the "king" of the playground and a (familiar, to us) spacer passing through on his search for a free place to sleep for a shift.

The encounter lasts for a few paragraphs, but those paragraphs are spread across several other paragraphs of the narrator's musings about the hierarchy of "the playground", a derelict public park (I think) on a space station (I think). Like I said, it's a little difficult to parse exactly what's being said in this story, because the narrator has very specific ideas about territorialism and hierarchy. He's observing the encounter, and commenting on it in a his own peculiar patois.

What exactly happens on the playground, and whether or not it's at all important or even notable in Ejoq's life is a little bit of a mystery by the end of the story. But what you do get, unquestionably, is insight into a highly unique character living in the Stardrifter universe. Maybe this is before the events of Street Candles. Maybe this is the moment that Ejoq internalized when embodying a homeless beggar on Barlow. Or maybe this is long afterwards, and it's just a tiny blip in Ejoq's life that he barely remembers. We don't know, and we don't need to know. This lends character and depth to the Stardrifter setting, and that's value enough.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

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