Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
What Stephen Baxter does with Starfall is that he distills the essential elements of space opera into a hundred pages. Miraculously, it contains everything that such a sub-genre requires: epic battles, a large cast of characters, and an assortment of technological innovations (some of which are hard SF and some not). Despite the limitations of length, Baxter combines all of these disparate elements together and makes it work just as effective as a novel would have. Because it's shorter however, there's never a dull moment and to steal a line from The Princess Bride, this is the "good parts version."
Right from the very start, Baxter gets readers into the action. This lack of preparation might be surprising for some readers but it ensures that the story moves along. A lot of the exposition is conveyed through dialogue, some feeling natural, at other times a keener reader would recognize as an excuse to convey information. Still, that's all excusable for readers wanting to dig deep into the juicy bits.
While Starfall has an invasion-type plot, Baxter showcases both sides of the conflict, drawing in the reader's sympathy for both factions. What's interesting with the war is that while it's tempting to over-simplify the results--especially with your word count limitation--Baxter conveys the "realistic" intricacies of such a battle, although we only get to witness the results as much of the drama is resolved behind the scenes. There's also a mystery seeded early on and while the first part of the book reads like a hard SF story, it eventually gives way to the space opera elements that increases the stakes and makes this, in my opinion, an interesting read.
Starfall is quite readable and while it might not be perfect, it's good enough and delivers a page-turner which you can consume in one sitting. Want epic SF without the huge time investment? This book will do the trick.