A Handful of StarsStar is trying to negotiate mining rights in the space equivalent of the Wild West, complete with cantankerous miners, capable madams, meddling scientists and religious nutters. What can possibly go wrong? Just about everything, unfortunately.

After the unexpected entertainment of Second Star, Stabenow’s second Star Svensdotter book is a bit of a mess. Picking up a couple of years later, the focus is on an Ellfive/Terranovan mission to the asteroid belt to find raw materials. The setting (and some of the characters) is closely modeled on the Alaskan gold rush, which starts out rough, ready and fairly amusing.

However, it lacks pace and focus, as it’s all very episodic. If the first 2/3 of the book meanders slowly nowhere, the last turns and kinks all over with no sense of direction, commitment or interest in exploring consequences. And then – more or less out of nowhere – it kicks you in the teeth and just stops.

All in all, this is diverting but dissatisfying after the promising first installment. I’ll probably still read the third and final book for completeism (and in hope of the resolution missing from book 2).

**1/2