Imagine if Melville or Conrad were writing contemporary novels one hundred years from now. Then they might have written a book like Michael Flynn’s The Wreck of the River of Stars.
In it, the River of Stars is a magnetic sailing ship, a relict of a glorious and romantic bygone age of sail that has since been retrofitted with fusion engines. Now reduced to hauling cargo across the Middle System, an accident happens, the engines die, and the crew work to hoist the sails for one last time so that they can decelerate to meet port at Jupiter.
And that’s the plot, more or less. What makes this a great novel in any genre are the characters, their differing personalities, and the deeply imagined and very recognisably human cultures animating their actions. The characterisation is so good that if any of them get killed you actually feel a twinge of regret. Believe me, this level of engagement is rare in any science fiction, where the lives and deaths of characters happen usually for plot reasons only.
So having perhaps unwisely slagged off American SF writers earlier on, I’ve found one worth getting excited about. First in a while.