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I read this in hardcover at a library sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

I don't recall much more than what's in the title. I'm not certain that the entire future civilization was Islamic; it may have been multicultural.

The starship in the novel could reshape itself. The exterior was made of overlapping metal plates. I recall the description sounding like a pangolin's armor, but I don't recall if it was compared to a pangolin in the novel.

The individual universes were likened to bubbles along some higher dimension, and one of the major plot points may have been the protagonist figuring out how to travel from one to the next. The universes may have been hierarchical.

It wasn't any great literary masterpiece, but it's been gnawing at the back of my mind for 20 years that I can't remember who wrote this thing. Thanks!

  • Not the story you're looking for, but Sarah Zettel's Fool's War features an Islamic captain of a private info-freighter. Also rouge AI's, good "rouge" AIs, a guild of starship jesters and a tribe of humans who have given up planets for less than fully realized ideological reasons. Nothing deep, but a nice romp. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 12 '14 at 23:47
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    @dmckee did you mean rogue AIs? – Mr Lister Sep 13 '14 at 9:30
  • @MrLister You don't think I meant red ones? Spelling is my third greatest weakness. Right after chocolate and peanut butter. I blame it on the French. Yeah, that's it. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 13 '14 at 16:12
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The Unreasoning Mask by Philip José Farmer?

I've never read it, but it sounds like it judging by this reviewer's description: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/206258739?book_show_action=true&page=1

Here's the "flexible starship":

From this side of the field, he could see her upper part. The vessel lay in a depression, the opposite wall of which was deep and vertical. On this side, ramps led up from the craft for the passage of crew and supplies. Many Kalafalans stood along the edges of the depression gazing at al-Buraq. She crouched in her berth, glowing with a bright-red wax and wane, breathing light. A monstrous starfish-form bright as a hot coal just fallen from a fireplace, her five arms sprawled out from the fat central body. She was now in this form so that the loading and unloading of cargo and supplies and the entry and exit of personnel could be expedited. For take-off, she could shift to space-form in two minutes, though she did not have to metamorphose to do so. The five arms, covered with hundreds of thousands of small armor plates, would shrink in length, swell in circumference, draw up, become part of the saucer-shaped body. Or, if she were to travel in the atmosphere, she would become needle-shaped. There was no danger of personnel being crushed in corridors or cabins during the shape-change. The bulkhead sensors detected that which must be uninjured or undamaged. Only if the captain -- or a delegated authority -- overrode the inhibitions with a spoken code could the shape-shifting be harmful to the crew.

  • Yes! I remember now it was called al-Buraq, and it was shaped like a starfish! Suddenly I get the feeling I could have just googled it. P. J. Farmer, that'd probably be how I stumbled on it. Thanks! – Ed Plunkett Sep 14 '14 at 1:16

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