Friday, March 25, 2016

A Dystopian Destiny

The Last Starship from EarthThe Last Starship from Earth 
by John Boyd

"Rarely is it given man to know the day or the hour when fate intervenes in his destiny, but, because he had checked his watch just before he saw the girl with the hips, Haldane IV knew the day, the hour, and the minute.  At Point Sur, California, on September 5, at two minutes past two, he took the wrong turn and drove down a lane to hell." (p 1)

Reading Science Fiction written in the past (in this case the late 1960s) creates a situation where what was posited as a story of the near future becomes a story of an alternate history. In this case  the novel is set in a dystopian society in the very near future. In the world of this story, Jesus did not die on the cross, but was killed leading an assault on Rome. He was the Messiah that people expected. The government of John Boyd’s world is a global government run by Christians along “scientific” lines, where psychologists and sociologists in conjunction with the Church and an AI Pope rule the world. People marry and mate because of their genes, reminiscent of the film Gattaca. The central character is Haldane IV, a mathematician, in a caste-based society. Unfortunately Haldane meets and develops an attraction for Helix, a mere poet. By law and social custom Haldane is expected to have nothing to do with her, but as you’d expect he falls in love with her.

Haldane IV also becomes interested in investigating Fairweather, a famous mathematician who lived shortly before his time. He has lengthy discussions about Fairweather with his father learning about his son Fairweather II, whom he discovers led a rebellion, which was defeated. Eventually Haldane IV is given a show trial and deported to another planet, where he meets Fairweather II.

This story presents a society that is displays totalitarian characteristics. For example Haldane is betrayed by his roommate who tells the authorities about his illicit love affair with Helix. The caste system is extremely rigid and the government is unforgiving. Haldane compounded his criminal behavior by impregnating Helix. The society is gradually developed through conversations and allusions while the deportation or banishment, if you prefer, is the beginning of a denouement that is somewhat amazing in its revelations. I cannot predict whether you will enjoy the way the story ends or feel that the prologue was not worth it. Fortunately this is a slight read of less than two hundred pages, or not so fortunately for those who would like more detail about yet another dystopian future for mankind.

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Brian Joseph said...

As I think you know I really love science fiction.

The alternate history presented here sounds really fascinated. I tend to like such stories.

The alternate story of Jesus sounds really inventive. It is a little surprising that such a controversial plot was presented at this time.

James said...


You have a good point regarding the controversial nature of the plot. In 1969 Michael Moorcock published an even more controversial science fiction novel, Behold the Man, where the protagonist goes back in time and becomes the character of Jesus who is ultimately crucified. I would recommend it as a challenging short novel about issues surrounding personal identity and the nature of religious belief. It won the Nebula Award for best novella in 1867 for an earlier version.