Shining star, shining bright,
Shining through the devil's night,
If you wish and if it's right,
Grant me, please, my wish tonight.
-- Childhood bedtime rhyme,
circa A.D. 6187
by Stephan Michael Loy
We killed Earth. Thousands of years later, the survivors, having fled their dead planet in great generation ships, eke out a tenuous existence among the local group of stars. This could have been the end for the last dregs of humanity, but for the rise of a dictatorial church that draws humankind under its wing and flogs it to prosperity. Now, Miranda St. Billiart, a soldier for the Community of God, seeks to escape the power that made her in the first place. With her sister Ilyanya, she uncovers the corruption that made the Church possible. The two of them fight to expose the great lie, to redress the evils heaped upon their people, and to discover within the wreckage of their universe who they are and why they matter.
SHINING STAR is that rarest of stories, space fantasy done with deadly serious intent. On one level, this is an ode to Star Wars. On another, it is Star Wars if done by Christopher Nolan. Whatever it is, SHINING STAR delivers action, pathos, cataclysmic space battles, armored space marines, and girls with swords. What else could you want?
THE SHORT OF IT:
Mankind has wandered in the wilderness of space for four thousand years. If not for the dictatorial Church of the Community of God, the human race would have winked out millennia ago. Community teaches commonality. It demands brotherhood and submission to the authority of God. It feeds us, protects us, and punishes us when we err.
And Community is a tower of lies.
Miranda St. Billart discovers the lie and seeks to cast it from the shadows of mankind’s notice. Her sister stands with her, as does an order of oppositional monks. They stand against an invincible army led by a stern Church that does not brook the suggestion of heresy. But still they stand, undergoing a great quest, for freedom from oppression lives in truth.
THE LONG OF IT:
Man fled the dying Earth in great generation ships, vessels so huge, they carried hundreds of thousands of refugees. The people had no destination; they hurled themselves into the universe not from a need to explore, but out of a sense of desperation. Perhaps they’d find a new world to colonize, or perhaps their great-great grandchildren would perish in the cold of space.
But mankind didn’t perish. Over centuries of wandering the void, their governments broke down from want of results, but were replaced by something less rational than spiritual, dependent less on words than on the steel in its back. This was the new religion, supplanting the old faiths that preached submission to the will of God and the inevitability of suffering. This religion taught that survival was possible, prosperity could happen, if only through obedience to the officers of the Church.
The Church replaced not merely every other faith, but the governments as well. It grew strong, and made itself stronger. Any who refused to shelter beneath its wings were raked by its talons. The Community of God was born.
Community made good its promises. It found new worlds for man to inhabit. Some of those worlds were harsh environments requiring the grueling work of terraforming. Generations labored to wrestle planets and moons into forms that supported if not loved the presence of man. Some worlds grew rich in the gifts of nature, some less so. But all knew the iron-fisted guidance of the Community of God.
Miranda St. Billiart is one such citizen of the long-established world order. An orphan, she was raised by Church and Community and now serves as a Soldier of God. In the dictatorial theocracy that spans the known worlds, Miranda lives near the top of the food chain. She enforces Church will and destroys Church enemies be they armed insurgents or just people who wish to worship as they please. She stakes and burns heretics -- schisoids, they call them. She is feared and often resented by the people she pounds into domestication. Does Miranda like what she does? No. But better to be the iron boot than the neck beneath its sole. The terrible things she is compelled to do would be done to her if she refused her duty. So she kills heretics, she burns schisoids, and grows more revolting each day.
Then she discovers a strange thing, an inquisitor found among the defeated dregs of a schisoid community. Inquisitors are the frightening ultimate enforcers of Church will. Assassins, all women, their skills are so honed that they are considered invincible. Even Miranda, in full combat armor with the best advanced weaponry, would never consider challenging an inquisitor. And all that inquisitor might have is a knife or a sword. And their perfected skill at killing.
Now, an inquisitor has been found among the enemy, perhaps had been working with them. Even more extraordinary, the inquisitor looks exactly like Miranda. What is this? How is it possible? In a society in which family is second only to faith, how can Miranda ignore the chance that the strange woman, that assassin for the faith, might be her sister? Her twin sister?
This revelation, if indeed it is true, propels Miranda into a new, uncharted destiny. She must rescue the inquisitor from those who would see her destroyed. She must rescue the woman from herself, as well. She must discover the secret that separates twins and binds them to servitude, the same dark secret that turns an unstoppable assassin for Community against the society that bred her. Schism awaits Miranda, schism and religious war. But, perhaps in the midst of desperate conflict, she might also find herself and a reason to live. Above all, the truth beckons, and cannot be denied.
MIRANDA ST. BILLIART
A child of her theocratic society. An orphan raised in a government creche, she has always been obligated to do as she is told and be whoever the government needs her to be. Now she is a Soldier of God, part of that elite army tasked to protect the body politic and defend the One True Faith from heretics and "schisoids". But Miranda discovers that the One True Faith that permeates every instance of her life is neither One nor True. The very fabric of society has been manipulated over time for political gain. The faith that brought mankind through the diaspora, the wandering in the deeps of space, and that prevented human civilization from snuffing out to oblivion, that faith is not what it once was. Does Miranda care? Maybe a little. Not much. What she cares about, deeply, is the alien concept of family, of belonging, of having people who love you and whom you love back. Miranda doesn't have any of that. Miranda is alone. Until the day she finds a heretic among traitors who is unmistakably her sister, and also a dreaded assassin for the Church. This, in our future, is how saints are made.
An inquisitor for Church. She was bred and trained from early childhood to seek out and destroy the enemies of her most holy Reverend Mother, the soul of Church and supreme leader of the Community of God. Because of her status as Church's elite assassin, Ilyanya strikes terror into all who see her, for an inquisitor cannot be stopped, cannot be withstood. She is death. But Ilyanya is a tortured soul, for she discovers that the monks, a heretic group she was sent to eliminate, are the true practitioners of the faith of her fathers, that the religion for which she murders is false. Ilyanya therefore betrays her oath as an inquisitor and sides with the heretic monks. Will she be damned for her betrayal? Will she be damned for the crimes she committed in the name of Church? Rudderless, she discovers the one improbable anchor that might bring meaning to her life: a weak, depressed, suicidal sister assigned by her Army of God superiors to execute the traitorous inquisitor. This is how schisms are made.
THE HONORED REVEREND MOTHER ST. ANASTASIA GABRIEL POSSENTI
The guiding heart and striking fist of Community and Church. For over seventy years she has ruled the theocracy with an iron will and thin mercy. Like the Reverend Mothers before her, she has lifted humanity from near extinction in space to a position nearing prosperity on a dozen worlds. Believe what you will about her methods, about the harshness of her regime or the direction of her vision, but it cannot be denied that man would be extinct if not for her and her predecessors. She guards Community and the faith with unmitigated fervor. Consequently, she is both mortified and enraged when, for the first time in Community history, one of her inquisitors turns sides. The Reverend Mother must find Ilyanya and destroy her. She is obsessed with finding and obliterating the heretic monks who turned her agent. When she learns that Ilyanya has found her long-lost sister, the Reverend Mother schemes to use Miranda as the tool to achieve her goals.
The characters in SHINING STAR are intended to be real, gritty, and multi-dimensional. Miranda is not your standard heroic personality. She is driven not by purpose or creed, but by despair and desperation. Her sister is likewise motivated and takes some disconcerting turns in her search for self-definition. The Reverend Mother, every bit the Darth Vader place keeper, is nonetheless not an evil person. She is doing her best for the survival of the human race. Can we say from our comfortable chairs in comfortable times what we would do in her place? The times are complicated, and though legends generations hence might characterize these people in purer terms, they are themselves as complicated and as broken as their times.
Click the PDF file below to enjoy 13,000 words from SHINING STAR. These introduce the basic conflict, the structure of this futuristic world, and the primary characters without too much in the way of spoilers. You will need a PDF reader such as Microsoft Word, Pages, or Adobe Acrobat Reader to view these files. You can download Acrobat Reader here, for free.
Introduces the primary character, Miranda St. Billiart. Also introduces her world and how it operates, along with the mysterious prisoner that sparks the story.
Nothing speaks more to the worth of a book than the acclamations of those who’ve read it. Here are some of the comments offered by readers after their experience with SHINING STAR.
This book is a great read. If you like the works of David Weber or Jerry Pournelle, I can recommend this book to you.
Loy presents a future world where religion has followed a unique path, but humankind's oppression of one another hasn't, nor have the individual pilgrimages of self-discovery we all share. His writing is clear and colorful, his setting gigantic and his characters well-drawn. And there are lots of good battle scenes.
Riveted from the first page!
Both a cutting commentary on institutionalized religion and a thinking man's sci-fi opera, Shining Star impresses with both its inventiveness and vision of an all too plausible future of the human race.
Sadly there are no clones to be had in this book. But Stephen Loy takes us on a theatrical journey into the future where Humanity is saved by the Mother Church. In the far flung future The Church must protect itself from heretics. Enter The Army of God. In the vein of Starship Troopers, the book not the movie, the Grunts of The Army of God are hard fighting power armored individuals in service to the church. Rooting out corruption, paying their pittance and being ever mindful of their place.
However all isn't as it seems as there is trouble in paradise.
This series does strike a fine balance between Military Jargon and Space Fluff. The story is important, but it's the conflict of the two main characters(sisters) that truly makes this a story to read. As both undergo a journey of discovery, self destruction and ultimately salvation. If you're into hard sci-fi you might not find much to your liking here. There is some Hard Sci-Fi but it's certainly well insulated by the Space Fantasy that tends to make up Space Opera's. And what Military Jargon is in the book does not over power you and leave you questioning what's going on. It add's just the right ambiance to the story.
At its best, science fiction holds a mirror to our own world, offering insight we otherwise might not see. At its worst, it can either delve into the depths of hokum or straddle the boundaries between science and pseudoscience with all the allure and grace of a refrigerator repair manual. In Shining Star, Stephan Loy creates a far flung, futuristic universe that isn't so dissimilar to ours. There are the faithful and the zealots, the weak and the warriors and those just surviving in between. As we've come to expect from a Loy novel, the characters are rich, the plot is thick, and the hook is deep. But what is important about this work are questions it asks of us in its wake, when the pages are turned and the story has cooled within us. And also the space ninjas.
When I first started reading this book, I was somewhat put off by the parallels to Star Wars. But as the story went on, I realized something. Stephan Loy, in his own sneaky way, was showing us how good Star Wars could have been. How it could have been a story where the villains have real motivations. How it could have been a story where the heroes had revelations and remorse.
I've gotten to know Steve Loy's writing through his books Isis Wept and Last Days and Times. He always creates characters that you can identify with. Even if they are sword-wielding god-fearing maniacs, he still includes a human element that we see reflected in ourselves.
He's also a craftsman storyteller, always spinning an entertaining yarn with excellent pacing and development. The plot never grows stale in a Stephan Loy joint.
Shining Star is another great an example of a book that makes you ask questions about yourself when you finish it. If the previous reviewer who gave the book one star actually finished it, they would have learned that the Shining Star is actually all about the transformative power of faith and the true message of the Bible.