Sociological impetus concedes to plot twists (3/5)
forté and nearly
all of the novels which heavily rely on myth connotation are lost on me
(Delany's Einstein Intersection to name one). With novels like these, I
try to adjust the plot's pressure from the pillar of mythology to the
load bearing pillar of science fiction. Sometimes the load is just too
much (i.e. Einstein Intersection) and the house of a novel's plot comes
crashing down with me shoulder-shrugging in a carefree yet disappointed
manner. Thankfully, The Last Starship of Earth wasn't overladen with
obvious mythology to topple the novel... Boyd's inexperience was enough
to do that.
Rear cover synopsis:
"In the futuristic society
that serves as the setting for this elegantly chilling novel, the State
decides whole one will choose as one's mate. In any case, professional
boundaries cannot be crossed, and thus the young mathematician Haldane
IV cannot fall in love with or marry the girl of his choice, the poet
Helix. But as the young couple studies ever more closely the long-hidden
poems of Fairweather I, whose work years before had completely altered
the whole nature of society and who is universally acknowledged to
greatest mathematician since Einstein, they realize the verses hold
important messages for them--and for the world. What, for example, does
this couplet mean?
That he who loses wins the race,...
That parallel lines must meet in space.
Even as they ponder, they know that the price, if they are caught, is exile to the planet of Hell."
to the prefecture of California, part of the Union of North America,
itself part of the World State. The triune State is governed by the
Three Weird Sisters, "an agglomeration of sociology, psychology, and
priests." (52) Where the sociologists and psychologists are concerned
about the legality of the State, the Church's main concern is its
morality; the psychologists take the broad view and monitor the police
activity while sociologists are the administrators and tackle the
judiciary side of the law. The population of the earth is divided
between the proletariats as "insensate brutes" (136) and professionals
as "sheep" (136) to the powers of State.
The professionals seem
to be classified by their colleges where prefix "A" stands are ART,
prefix "M" stands for MATHEMATICS, and prefix "C" stands for
CRIMINOLOGY. Other professions are experienced but the classification
seems to be a simple dystopian tag to adhere to the two victims of its
own society: Haldane IV (M-5, 138270, 2/10/46) falls in love with the
idea of and the ideals of Helix, A-7, 148261. 13/15/47) (I believe the
latter numbers refer to their birthdays in regards to the rather
confusing 13-month Hebrew Calendar). Each professional classification is
mated within its own college, the mate chosen for their genetic synergy
in order to produce a greater knowledge-based professional class to
drive forward the specific needs of the State, where the proletariats
act as general means laborers.
On one fateful day, Haldane was
meant to go to the science museum but ended up crossing paths with Helix
at the art gallery. The mathematician is intrigued by a facet of the
legend of the greatest mathematician to even live that he never knew
about--the man also wrote poetry. Helix quotes some poetry by the legend
and Haldane never looks back twice. The two clandestinely meet to
exchange notes of the subject to ascertain what Fairweather was pointing
at with his dichotomous poetry. Haldane's roommate's loaning of his
parent's apartment is perfectly suited for these trysts and for his
weekly visitations to his father's house.
noteworthy for his contributions to light-speed travel, which allowed
ships to traverse space and colonize stars. However, the State was
against such an expansion and the trips were limited to the planet Hell,
a planet shrouded in propaganda as being desolate, frozen, and four
million light-years away in the Cygnus system. One more contribution
Fairweather made to society was his invention of the electronic pope, a
supercomputer which has the last word on any sentencing done by the
The non-physical relationship between Haldane and
Helix borders on amorous but their social conditioning is so strong
that only a special circumstance (i.e. plot twist) can force the two to a
more physical situation. The relationship develops and ends with yet
another hasty special circumstance (i.e. predictable plot twist).
Thereafter, Haldane spends his time in jail with his lawyer being
prepped for his trial against the World State, which calls for
subversion against professional all three of the "Weird Sister" fields:
sociology, psychology, and The Church. The trial ends with Haldane
unsuspectingly given the worst sentence possible.
budding relationship of Haldane and Helix amid the social restrictions
imposed by the State was a small spectacle in itself. The technocracy of
genetic pairing is familiar territory for science fiction readers yet
the entrapment is a fairly old hook (i.e. Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We).
Up until the point of the back-to-back plot twists, the book was on a
4.5 mean average, with swathes of sociological implications and heady
passages of love yet to be fulfilled. Call me a hopeless romantic, but
the combination of the two was an opiate for me.
duhn duhn, the suspenseful soundtrack of an ill attempt at a natural
plot twist, which Boyd half-way failed at. I had faith in this unknown
author at pulling off the dual plot twists as I had already invested my
faith in the first half of the novel. My trust remained strong even
through the THIRD plot twists, when I met the scenario with much
skepticism and narrowed eyes of disbelief. But when Boyd played his time
travel card, I immediately knew that Boyd made the most critical error
any author could perpetrate: don't write a story you don't have an
ending for. I would usually use "deus ex machina" to describe the sudden
event, but this came flying straight out of his rusty bullet hole.
the mention of the Hebrew Calendar above and the unmentioned time
travel stint with Jesus and the Wandering Jew (oops), there's a more
latent judeo-christian underpinning beneath the novel. One lingering
questions which a social theologian may want to tackle after reading
this novel is, How has the Church affected the course of the sciences of
sociology and psychology? It's my final opinion that the years of
mention (1850-1966) are of an alternative history. Some historical names
of mention (A. Lincoln's "Johannesburg Address" isn't Abraham Lincoln's
"Gettysburg Address") are altered and point to the alternative history
While most of the historical and mythological portions
were lost on me (neither a historian or mythologist, but acquiring the
temporary persona of a mathematician), the sociological implications
affecting the amorous couple are a highlight... but after the plot
twists the wait for the conclusion is all downhill if you subtract the
details concerning the government and its history. I already own the
second book of the trilogy, The Pollinators of Eden, and glance at it hesitantly. As for book three, The Rakehells of Heaven... I release of ominous sigh of near future acquaintance.