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This innovative sci-fi novel explores the potential impact of alien infection on humankind as they traverse the stars and find themselves stranded on new and strange planets. Amid the Crowd of Stars is a grand scale science fiction novel examining the ethical implications of interstellar travel, a topic rarely addressed in science fiction novels. What responsibilities do we This innovative sci-fi novel explores the potential impact of alien infection on humankind as they traverse the stars and find themselves stranded on new and strange planets. Amid the Crowd of Stars is a grand scale science fiction novel examining the ethical implications of interstellar travel, a topic rarely addressed in science fiction novels. What responsibilities do we have to isolate ourselves from the bacteria, viruses, and other life of another world, and to prevent any of that alien biome from being brought back to Earth? What happens when a group of humans are stranded for centuries on another world with no choice but to expose themselves to that world? After such long exposure, are they still Homo sapiens or have they become another species entirely? These questions are at the heart of this intriguing novel, explored through the complicated lives and the viewpoints of the people who have come to rescue the stranded colony, the members of that colony, and the sentient alien life that dwells on the planet. Difficult life and death choices will be made by all involved.


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This innovative sci-fi novel explores the potential impact of alien infection on humankind as they traverse the stars and find themselves stranded on new and strange planets. Amid the Crowd of Stars is a grand scale science fiction novel examining the ethical implications of interstellar travel, a topic rarely addressed in science fiction novels. What responsibilities do we This innovative sci-fi novel explores the potential impact of alien infection on humankind as they traverse the stars and find themselves stranded on new and strange planets. Amid the Crowd of Stars is a grand scale science fiction novel examining the ethical implications of interstellar travel, a topic rarely addressed in science fiction novels. What responsibilities do we have to isolate ourselves from the bacteria, viruses, and other life of another world, and to prevent any of that alien biome from being brought back to Earth? What happens when a group of humans are stranded for centuries on another world with no choice but to expose themselves to that world? After such long exposure, are they still Homo sapiens or have they become another species entirely? These questions are at the heart of this intriguing novel, explored through the complicated lives and the viewpoints of the people who have come to rescue the stranded colony, the members of that colony, and the sentient alien life that dwells on the planet. Difficult life and death choices will be made by all involved.

30 review for Amid the Crowd of Stars

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    3.5 stars. This is my favorite kind of Sci-Fi, one that considers the practical intricacies most of these stories skip over. It reminded me of SEMIOSIS by Sue Burke, one of my recent favorites, that way. The not-so-little detail that this story stretches out is the idea that getting to a new planet to form a colony isn't just about breathable air. It's about all the invisible things that can kill you, the microbes and viruses, and how that would impact interplanetary relations. Ichiko is on a sh 3.5 stars. This is my favorite kind of Sci-Fi, one that considers the practical intricacies most of these stories skip over. It reminded me of SEMIOSIS by Sue Burke, one of my recent favorites, that way. The not-so-little detail that this story stretches out is the idea that getting to a new planet to form a colony isn't just about breathable air. It's about all the invisible things that can kill you, the microbes and viruses, and how that would impact interplanetary relations. Ichiko is on a ship from Earth sent to reestablish contact with a colony that has been on its own for a few centuries. They need to see if the planet is suitable for them and likewise if the people on this planet would be safe coming back to Earth. As an additional complication, this planet was colonized by a relatively homogenous group of Irish people, and the technology they landed with has died out, making them a drastically different culture. Saoirse lives in a subculture of the planet, on an isolated island that mostly keeps to itself. Ichiko wants to learn more about this group and Saoirse serves as her guide and liaison. To make this work, you have to have an interesting element to the planet's microbial offerings, and Leigh mostly succeeds at this. Eventually we learn about the way life on this planet is different than anything seen elsewhere, but the wait to get there is quite long. There are early hints, but at first I thought this was going to be one of those robots-gain-sentience books and that bored me, happily it was something else entirely, but you do have to stick with it for a while to get there. The worldbuilding is slow, in part, because even Saoirse doesn't know all the intricacies of her world at the beginning of the book. But it means you just have to trust for the entire first third that things will get more interesting. They definitely do! But that's a long wait. I also have some quibbles with the end, where everything unfolds way too quickly and seems pretty inconsistent with everything else we know about the mission. Though I realized that we do not know all that much. I did find it odd that Ichiko seems to be the only member of the crew out studying the inhabitants, that she is back and forth with the ship so much. The parts of the story set on the ship tend to lose momentum, and if I'd read an early draft I probably would have suggested setting more of these interactions on the on-planet base. I liked Ichiko and Saoirse, enjoyed spending time with them, and that's critical for a story like this to work for me. They don't feel like cardboard characters, especially Saoirse. But they both feel like they're at a remove from the worlds around them, I would have liked to understand their daily lives more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alena

    Went into this book with no expectations and was still somehow disappointed. The beginning was promising but the story quickly became dull and repetitive. I even had to skim some paragraphs towards the end because I just wouldn't be able to finish the book otherwise. Both protagonists were fine, I guess, but I didn't feel anything for them. Ichiko just kept going back and forth from the ship to the planet with not much happening, and also had some strange reluctant relationship with her commander Went into this book with no expectations and was still somehow disappointed. The beginning was promising but the story quickly became dull and repetitive. I even had to skim some paragraphs towards the end because I just wouldn't be able to finish the book otherwise. Both protagonists were fine, I guess, but I didn't feel anything for them. Ichiko just kept going back and forth from the ship to the planet with not much happening, and also had some strange reluctant relationship with her commander. I liked Saoirse a bit more for having at least some spunk and personality but after some time she started annoying me by constantly thinking of touching and bedding Ichiko (it's not really a spoiler because their relationship was too obvious from the beginning). She completely lost me when her first thought about anyone else from the ship was "is Ichiko sleeping with them?". Like, seriously? The worldbuilding was also just okay and learning about this other sentient alien life never made an impact and didn't seem to be explored enough. There were interesting ideas and concepts but their execution just didn't work and didn't make for an exciting or compelling story. Thank you to Netgalley and DAW for my eARC.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Tas

    Read this review and other Science Fiction/Fantasy book reviews at The Quill to Live Over the past few years I've moved away from the idea that science fiction is the genre of “big ideas.” It can be a good descriptor, but unless a specific topic is discussed within a specific book, I find it unhelpful. “It’s a book about big ideas” has become a meaningless phrase to me, and I’m a better reviewer for it. That being said, if a book is marketed or said to explore a distinct idea, well, it’s extremel Read this review and other Science Fiction/Fantasy book reviews at The Quill to Live Over the past few years I've moved away from the idea that science fiction is the genre of “big ideas.” It can be a good descriptor, but unless a specific topic is discussed within a specific book, I find it unhelpful. “It’s a book about big ideas” has become a meaningless phrase to me, and I’m a better reviewer for it. That being said, if a book is marketed or said to explore a distinct idea, well, it’s extremely hard for me to say no to that book. It’s partially why my TBR is just an unending pit and I just need a book that shows me why it’s okay to die with tasks unfinished (now that’s a BIG IDEA). So when I stumbled about the description for this next book, I just had to read it. Amid The Crowd of Stars, by Stephen Leigh, is a tightly focused novel about the ethics and implications of interstellar travel and colonization that rarely goes beyond its central concepts both to its benefit and detriment. The novel follows Ichiko Aguilar, a Japanese scientist sent to investigate an established colony, called Lupus, cut off from Earth for centuries. Once there, she takes it upon herself to research and record the societies that have developed in response to the environment they live in. Through her short trips she meets Saoirse Mullin, a member of the Mullin clan on the Inish isles, and daughter of the clan’s matriarch. Now that the colony has contact with people from Earth, Saoirse dreams of returning to humanity’s home. Unfortunately, the centuries upon the colonized planets have not been kind to the people there, and they may harbor diseases that could ruin life on Earth. Tests need to be completed and research to be done in order to ensure that both the people of Earth and those on Lupus will not harm each other. Firstly, Leigh’s exploration of the subject at hand is pretty thorough from a psychological and biological perspective. He wastes no time in setting up the stakes, diving right into the issues from the get go. Some readers might find it a bit jarring, especially with the minimal worldbuilding outside the colony, but it pulled me right in and focused on the smaller aspects of the story. The conversations surrounding the ethics of being exposed to alien biomes and becoming a part of them feel natural, even in their thought experiment format. Leigh mostly succeeds in making the central thesis a part of the story, and allows the characters and events to dictate the debate. Rarely did I ever feel like Leigh was building to a point, allowing the situation to play out instead of feeling like a lecture on why it should be done a specific way. Leigh, without succumbing to a dooming perspective, also did not limit his imagination when it came to implications and consequences. It was an intricate dance of grounded realism and fantastical “what ifs.” Leigh wrote a far more curious book than I was expecting and that warmed my critical heart. However, while it was a great exploration of “should we colonize alien biomes and forever change the internal makeup of some humans,” it’s hard to say it’s an excellent story. It’s not bad by any means, and often Leigh manages to make it compelling, but on it’s own it isn’t much to write home about. There is a lot of slow revealing of information over the course of the book, but rarely does it feel overtly impactful. The fact that the story is limited to two points of view when there are easily more than four different perspectives lessens the stakes in some ways. I realize that the goal was more the exploration of “exposure to alien DNA and its ramifications,” but at the same time I felt the focus was a little too narrow. There were definitely moments that could have thrown a wrench into the proceedings, but the story seemed to stop outside of the character’s perspectives at some points. If there had been a little more discussion outside earshot of Ichiko and Saoirse from the people on and off Lupus, the grander story would have been more intriguing to me. Fortunately, Leigh is good at writing characters. Ichiko and Saoirse are both interesting and have internal lives that make their actions and concerns tangible and natural. Their individual stories made the book feel like a drama for the most part, instead of a thought experiment. The debate has a real effect on both their lives, and they each do their part to solve the problem. Saoirse especially feels daring and bold when it comes to increasing her chances at leaving the world of Lupus. Ichiko feels curious, and views the situation as an opportunity to learn while at times forgetting that the people of Lupus exist on their own. Their relationship to each other is dynamic, and Leigh does a great job of making it feel tense between them when there are secrets and implications. The author rightly makes this relationship the focal point of the debate, but as I said before sometimes it has a penchant for feeling like the only part that matters. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Amid the Crowd of Stars, but it also didn’t surpass my expectations. It’s a powerful thought experiment with a narrative window dressing, not a thrilling tale with a cleverly nested discourse. The two main characters feel alive, as do aspects of the world in the center of the book. The book also feels ripe for metaphors if you want to aggressively read into some of the subtler themes, particularly in relation to a sense of place within nature, but they also don’t feel purposeful. There is a lot to like about this book, and if you’re at all the kind of person who reads science fiction to better conceive of a future, it should be on your list. Rating: Amid the Crowd of Stars - 7.0/10 -Alex

  4. 4 out of 5

    Davenport Public Library

    Returning to a colony that had been abandoned centuries ago after a planetary disaster on Earth, Ichiko Aguilar, a scientist from Japan on the ship Odysseus is tasked with investigating the cultures that have evolved on Lupus in the absence of Earth's influence. Key to the investigation is the influence of Lupus' native bacteria, viruses, and other environmental conditions on the people left there and how that might have affected their genome and ultimately, their ability to return to earth. One Returning to a colony that had been abandoned centuries ago after a planetary disaster on Earth, Ichiko Aguilar, a scientist from Japan on the ship Odysseus is tasked with investigating the cultures that have evolved on Lupus in the absence of Earth's influence. Key to the investigation is the influence of Lupus' native bacteria, viruses, and other environmental conditions on the people left there and how that might have affected their genome and ultimately, their ability to return to earth. One of the more intriguing developments Ichiko investigates is the people of the Inish islands who have separated themselves from the people of the Mainland (the people of Lupus have developed into 28 main clans across the habitable zone, though the book focuses primarily on the settlements of Dulcia and Inish) after a war over the harvesting of a native species called the arracht. The Inish have developed a close relationship with the arracht and Ichiko, after befriending Saoirse Mullin, is allowed onto the Inish islands, a very rare occurrence, which leads to growing tension between the Mainlanders - who still harbor ill will towards the Inish - and the crew of Odysseus. The main thrust of the novel is the danger of colonization of truly alien worlds, not just to the flora and fauna we see with the naked eye, but what we cannot see. The danger not just to ourselves, of course, but to the other worlds as well. This novel reminded me greatly of Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead" and "Xenocide" with these themes. The novel is spent primarily exploring the relationships between Icikco and Saoirse and their other relationships. One of the limitations of this narrative is that we see the events of the novel from Icikco's and Saoirse's perspectives. While Icikco is part of a scientific expedition, she is sent out alone, and we only really hear her consult with one other scientist. The perspective of the Inish has a bit more of a diverse representation, yet still more voices would have made for a more interesting story. On the balance, this was an interesting take on the theme of interstellar exploration and colonization. I would have loved to hear more from some of the other characters, and it also seemed like the main action was crammed in at the end (and not well-explained). Sidenote: The inclusion of a glossary, timeline, and character roll was a little off-putting for a 300+ page novel. I don't why this bothered me, but that and the chapter titles nearly made me put it back on the shelf. "Amid the Crowd of Stars" can be found in Science Fiction at Eastern and Fairmount under SF LEIGH STE

  5. 5 out of 5

    Whimsy Dearest

    After a colony has long lost contact with Earth, Ichiko is sent to investigate their planet to determine if their planet is habitable, and likewise, if any of them may return to Earth. Lyrical and richly imagined, Amid the Crowd of Stars is a unique take on extrasolar planetary exploration. Where this story succeeds most is in its worldbuilding--focusing on the Lupusian’s society and the flora and fauna of the planet. Due to the nature of the story then, it’s definitely a slow burn. Don’t expect After a colony has long lost contact with Earth, Ichiko is sent to investigate their planet to determine if their planet is habitable, and likewise, if any of them may return to Earth. Lyrical and richly imagined, Amid the Crowd of Stars is a unique take on extrasolar planetary exploration. Where this story succeeds most is in its worldbuilding--focusing on the Lupusian’s society and the flora and fauna of the planet. Due to the nature of the story then, it’s definitely a slow burn. Don’t expect any large, hostile threats like giant worms from Dune or mutant bears like from Annihilation. Instead, the biggest threats are microbial ones and the fear of contamination. To me, this is a really interesting angle to take. However, I have major unanswered questions about the story. (view spoiler)[For example, Ichiko is a sociologist, archeologist, and exobiologist all in one, and she refers to herself as belonging to a research team. We’re mostly limited to her POV. However, we don’t really see or hear about any of her team members going on expeditions to the planet. She's the only one. Moreover, I find it odd that the Terrans from Earth are attempting to use Earth antibiotics to combat alien microbes. Of course, that’s not likely to work. Why aren’t they focusing on finding and creating antibiotics from the planet they’re investigating? Even better, why aren't they trying to create vaccines by testing the antibodies of the Lupusians that are already immune? (hide spoiler)] Overall, I find Amid the Crowd of Stars conceptually fascinating. However, some of its execution failed for me. Ultimately, the story succeeds more in exploring the culture of another planet than it does as a well-thought-out alien contagion story. Thank you, DAW and NetGalley, for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Just ok. The story was slow and repetitive, and we spent way more time on regular human problems than with the supposedly-innovative first-contact. I was turned off early by some pretty basic errors. With mistakes this simple, I am left to doubt every aspect of the writing (see getting the county wrong in Obscura). In this case, the more straightforward error is when a science staff member is talking about a fungus that some settlers have, and how it isn't responding to any of their space-age ant Just ok. The story was slow and repetitive, and we spent way more time on regular human problems than with the supposedly-innovative first-contact. I was turned off early by some pretty basic errors. With mistakes this simple, I am left to doubt every aspect of the writing (see getting the county wrong in Obscura). In this case, the more straightforward error is when a science staff member is talking about a fungus that some settlers have, and how it isn't responding to any of their space-age antibiotics. As someone with stupid-dumb skin, I have had a lot of infections. You can't treat fungus with antibiotics, you treat them with antifungals. "Antibiotics" is not synonymous with "medicine," nor are they magical drugs that kill all pathogens. Second, the main Terran character is supposed to be a researcher and anthropologist, but she wanders around as if she has no training. It doesn't seem like other researchers are documenting the "mainlanders" but she spends the majority of her time with a smaller off-shoot group. Maybe suggested for sci-fi readers who like a slower pace, but this doesn't pose a lot of philosophical questions social sci-fi readers may be looking for. Not recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jack Kelley

    Finally! Finally! A novel about colonization acknowledging the very probable dangers of being exposed to an entirely alien biosphere! And one that explores the culture that humans might develop over time on an alien world cut off from the rest of humanity! It isn’t all perfect, though. I think the plot with the AMIs wasn’t entirely necessary and the arracht were, in the grand scheme of things, not given as much attention as we’re lead to believe they should be getting considering how important t Finally! Finally! A novel about colonization acknowledging the very probable dangers of being exposed to an entirely alien biosphere! And one that explores the culture that humans might develop over time on an alien world cut off from the rest of humanity! It isn’t all perfect, though. I think the plot with the AMIs wasn’t entirely necessary and the arracht were, in the grand scheme of things, not given as much attention as we’re lead to believe they should be getting considering how important the characters say they are, but I had such a great time reading that they really don’t bother me. The only thing I would’ve loved as an addition might have been some more detailed history on the formation of the clans/how the decision was made to open up First Base after the initial ship left when the colony was founded- but that’s just a person wish :). Overall, a fascinating read that had some flaws, but I loved every second of it. 4.5/5.

  8. 4 out of 5

    K Saju

    A book which started off with a good premise but then somewhere in the middle got ready to finish the story very quickly. Two civilization borne from the original earth dwellers who travelled across the sky and made their home on this planet. The early buildup was very well executed and I would have been happy if the author had persisted and added more rich history to the life and culture of the people residing in the planet. Overall a decent read

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dlhmoore

    A very interesting novel about the ethics of interstellar travel. It pictures the responsibilities of bringing bacteria and virus from this world to another. And the danger of returning to earth with the dangers from the visited world. It’s a well done story with good writing. If you like sci-fi please try this one. It’s very unusual but quite good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    Enjoyable read. I'd say it's the first time I've ever read a book with so much full on Irish abbreviated speech but I quickly got used to it. I'd read more in this series if it gets released, though I would be surprised if there was more. Enjoyable read. I'd say it's the first time I've ever read a book with so much full on Irish abbreviated speech but I quickly got used to it. I'd read more in this series if it gets released, though I would be surprised if there was more.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Louisa

    This was such a great read, I loved the story and the science, and it was just so interesting! Really great read!

  12. 5 out of 5

    SSShafiq

    Dec 2020: disease, ethics and sci fi - this seems like a direct response to 2020. Or just convenient ....

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I will join the others who said it started off strong but got mired about halfway through. I skimmed the second half. Just not enough going on.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allan Freeman

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tammy Janelle

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stacey Lunsford

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Johnson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy Mui

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lee Pfahler

  23. 4 out of 5

    Terry Ryman

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  25. 4 out of 5

    N. Frances

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Brosvic

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  30. 5 out of 5

    OTIS

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