Brian M. Stableford’s Journey to the Center (1982) is a poor man’s Ringworld (1970) mixed with a light dose of Pohl’s Gateway (1977). The combination is pleasantly surprising in parts but also downright dull. Stableford’s alien species are interchangeable and uninteresting and his descriptions of the world — although a fantastic idea — fail to encapsulate the awe Asgard should inspire.
The tone, verging on light-hearted, does not suit the subject matter and despite Asgard’s supposedly omnipresent dangers the fear the characters are experiencing (in theory) does not permeate the pages. In short, Journey to the Center is a quick read that does not live up to its potential in any shape or form. However, the work shows promise and certainly won’t be the last Stableford I’ll purchase.
Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)
Mike Rousseau lives among hundreds of other humanoid species on the larger than Earth-sized “planet” Asgard controlled by the Tetrons (a superior race). Asgard (layered like an onion), is more like a Dyson sphere than a planet. Asgard’s original occupants are all long dead, supposedly.
The various humanoid species live on Asgard for sole purpose of scavenging its endless hallways, levels, cities, with the overwhelming goal to discover a way to “the center.” The center is theorized to contain a small sun which powered all the systems of the planet or planet moving engines. With an inactive power source the layers below the surface are progressively colder and the scavengers wear insulated cold suits.
Our hero Mike is framed for a murder by various other alien species. Under Tetron law, criminals can be purchased for a certain period of time as a slave — those who framed Mike desire to use his prodigious scavenging skills for their own expedition. However, before he signs the slavery contract a female Star Force captain “rescues him” — again, in order to utilize his skills for her own expedition — tracking down an “android” (think PKD’s non-mechanical androids) who has fled into cold interior of Asgard. Mike is conscripted into the Star Force under the command of Captain Susarma Lear and sets off on an expedition…
Final Thoughts (some spoilers)
Journey to the Center‘s ending is downright anti-climactic — few of Asgard’s secrets are revealed — the work is plagued by a virulent strain of Ringworld syndrome. Did Stableford plan on writing a sequel (he did more than a decade later)? Or, did Stableford run out of ideas? Novels hinging on huge scientific concepts often fail at the final delivery to wow the reader… That’s definitely the downfall of this work.
Stableford’s prose is mostly competent, his protagonist is a light-hearted Indiana Jones-esque non-entity, and the world is intriguing but hollow (no pun intended). Recommended (mostly) on rather dubious grounds…
6 thoughts on “Book Review: Journey to the Center, Brian M. Stableford (1982)”
Great cover! Did Doubleday publish that edition? Will you try to hunt down the sequels? Sounds like a good cheesy read… and there’s nothing wrong with that! Looks like Stableford wrote a lot, according to ISFDB. Good luck hunting around.
Yes, Doubleday is the publisher. Definitely a fun cheesy read — but I probably won’t track down the sequels — they were written in the late 90s….
You do know, don’t you, that there are *two* revised versions of “Journey to the Centre” – the last retitled as “Asgard’s Secret”? So I wonder whether, if you’d read one of the revised versions instead, maybe you’d have found it better. Or maybe, if the book seems incomplete at the end, or doesn’t reveal many of the secrets it seems to promise, the second and third books do deliver on this. (On the editions: the first edition of “Journey to the Centre” (1982) seems to be just a book on its own; when the first revision came out (1989), the two sequels appeared for the first time: “Invaders from the Centre” (1990) and “The Centre Cannot Hold” (1990). Later still, the whole trilogy appeared, revised, as “Asgard’s Secret” (2004), “Asgard’s Conquerors” (2004), and “Asgard’s Heart” (2005). (The last versions appeared only in hardcover, and were in print only for a short time, so are not easy to find – but by no means impossible.))
I have all the above editions of these books, because Stableford was always an author whose stories intrigued me, at least based on plot summary; but somehow I’ve never found him an easy read, and so haven’t actually succeeded so far in reading many of these books to the end. And I don’t know just how different the original and revised editions of these novels are. The hardcover editions do contain a brief introduction by the author in which he summarizes the history of the various editions – but it doesn’t quite say how different the versions are.
Some months ago I started reading the first book of this trilogy, in the hardcover version, and found the premise behind the story interesting; but somehow it just didn’t quite grip me, and I can’t quite say why. Maybe parts are just not as clear as they might be, and I set a lot of store on clarity in a book, and it disappoints me when authors are not clear, especially when the story itself interests me. Anyway, whatever the reason, I got about 6 chapters in, to after where he was “rescued” by the female Star Force captain; but somehow I lost the thread of it after that. It could be that I have distractions in my life, and that my concentration may not be the best; so I don’t necessarily blame the book for this – but the fact is that, despite the interesting ideas, the book seemed less absorbing than some other books I’ve read.
So I wonder if it is worth trying again (I’d have to start again at the beginning now, after this much time), and whether the sequels will deliver what the first book (according to some) fails to deliver properly.
I’d be interested to hear any more opinions about this.
It is less absorbing — it’s not you!
This is a review for the 1982 edition — the only one of the three editions I own and the only one I’ve read of the series. I’m generally uninterested in post-1980 science fiction so I personally won’t be returning to the series or the book (or its revisions) anytime soon. I found the novel rather egregious — fascinating theme but inept character development, no wonder at the incredible spectacle that unfolds before us, and lack of descriptive ability to convey the wonder…
In short — procede at your own risk! haha.
Thanks for stopping by!
Just another thought: I wondered what you meant by “Ringworld” syndrome. I haven’t read the Ringworld books – but I wonder whether the Ringworld series and Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville trilogy are rather similar sorts of stories to this series by Stableford.
Ringworld — gigantic object that must be explored — think Clarke’s Rendezvous at Rama. The hard science fiction idea overshadows ALL other elements of the work — sort of what I was getting at by “Ringworld Syndrome.” Niven and Clarke are somewhat better at conveying the wonder of landing on such a fascinating technological construction than Stableford….
Shaw’s Orbitsville is on my shelf waiting to be read….