I'm looking for help identifying a particular young-adult sci-fi novel I remember reading while in high school, more than a decade ago. I still remember the outline of the plot quite clearly, but my searches haven't turned up anything.

The novel takes place in a future where humanity is suffering from 'ennui'. There are FTL-capable spacecraft, but the FTL engines to those spacecraft are provided and maintained by a friendly alien race. Members of this race serve aboard human ships in isolation, maintaining the engines. Humans are not allowed to be present or to observe the installation or removal of these engines.

The main character is a university student whose university (which is aboard a spaceship) crash-lands on some planet. I don't remember most of what they did aboard the planet, but they eventually discover that:

The engines are actually some sort of massive sentient living creature that feeds on the 'life-force' (or equivalent) of other sapient races (hence the 'ennui'). The 'friendly' aliens are the previous victims (and present-day slaves) of the antagonist race. The novel ends with a battle between some human ships with a prototype human-designed FTL drive and some of these beings.

Other odds and ends include 'Auditors' belonging to some powerful religious organization and robots referred to as 'deadmen'.

I don't remember the novel being particularly good, but the conceit stuck with me, for some reason. Any help identifying would be appreciated.

1 Answer 1


This is "The Engines of Dawn" by Paul Cook

Per Amazon books review;

The story is set on a spaceship that functions as a traveling university. (gee, let's count how many times has this idea been used? at least a dozen) Humanity is stagnant as a result of alien influence. They let us use their stardrives but not to understand or handle them. (see for example Jack Vance - The five gold bands; 1980) No advances in science and the population is declining. Yet on this university/spaceship there are three (yes 3) different types of human FTL drive prototypes.

Then the alien drive breaks down. It will take two weeks for a replacement to arrive. What does the ship's captain (responsible for thousands of students and staff) do? Yes, he decides to try out one of these prototypes. (absolutely no reason, the ship is in no immediate danger) The editorial staff of the student newspaper are called "comrades" (well, I've always suspected). The robots are called "deadmen"

  • 1
    Perfect! Thanks so much; my curiosity has been sated.
    – AustinZ
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 7:34
  • For some reason I remember it being a short story, but I guess it was a novel.
    – JAB
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 1:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.