Acts of Conscience Paperback – Jan 1 1997
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Science fiction and fantasy have antiheros aplenty. Think Thomas Covenant, Frankenstein's monster, or Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Add Gaetan "Don't Call Me Gae" du Cheyne, the protagonist of Acts of Conscience, to the list. Gaetan is an ordinary, self-involved, maybe-misogynistic orbital mechanic. He drinks, obsesses about women (as objects of his impotent lust), and irritates people. But oh, how realistic Gaetan is--a masterful characterization by William Barton. In fact, Gaetan's thoughts are almost too human and scattered, and Barton relies on ellipses rather heavily ... when writing what's going on in Gaetan's head.
When Gaetan's forgotten investments turn him into the sole owner of a faster-than-light spaceship, he flees his pathetic life and heads to planet Green Heaven to seek out the adventure and excitement he's craved. Instead, his journey reveals only the intergalactic depredations of men just like himself--brutal rapes, senseless killing, eradication of cultures and ecologies. He also discovers an ancient alien civilization contemplating the eradication of humanity. What's an honest antihero to do?
Acts of Conscience received a special mention in the 1997 Philip K. Dick Awards. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
With insight and intelligence, Barton (When Heaven Fell) describes a series of moral dilemmas with no easy solutions confronting Gaetan du Cheyne, his bored, troubled 26th-century protagonist. The fortuitous beneficiary of a stockmarket power play, du Cheyne becomes the proud owner of a faster-than-light prototype spaceship with which he plans to explore the starry skies. Wisely, however, Barton resists the urge to turn this into another celestial picaresque, creating instead a deeply disturbing tale of a young man whose past troubles stand in the way of his ability to know or do what is right. In fact, in spite of the spaceship device, Gaetan's journey is a psychological, not a physical one. The ethical challenges he faces all occur on the ironically named world of Green Heaven, where he must decide what, if anything, to do about the systematic destruction of the planet's intelligent species and his discovery of another species' own plans for humanity. There is an intense and intensely pleasurable display of erudition, writerly tact and hard psychological realism as du Cheyne confronts difficult questions about exploitation and survival, evolutionary reality and moral righteousness. There are no obvious answers, but there is a fascinating work of science fiction that easily rises above the stock-in-trade.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
What kept me reading was Barton's plot and his genuinely likeable, if flawed, protagonist. Acts of Conscience describes the book beautifully. This isn't space opera, and although the protagonist is somewhat of a prisoner of his hormones, it isn't one of those teenage boy fantasy-type scifi novels, with lots of pointless sex that's incidental to the plot. Barton's book will actually make you think seriously about what it means to do the right thing. How often can one say this of a science fiction novel? If you can get through the ugly scenes, I recommend it. However, I wouldn't require it of any of my students.
Typical skiffy hokum, right? Wrong. This book has something to say and it isn't polite about it. The picture that Barton paints of human nature and, more importantly, (male) human sexuality is NOT a flattering one. Looking at it will do you a power of good, though. And Gaetan, although not a very pleasant sort of chap, is as complex and contradictory a person as any I've encountered in more 'respectable' literature.
So. Four stars. A gritty, thought-provoking book only let down by a somewhat subdued ending.
First let me say that I have read a lot of science fiction (a lot of science fiction) and many of the problems that I see brought up by the reviewers here plague science fiction as a whole, poor characters, overt sexuality, plot holes, on and on. To me the idea of science fiction is not to create high art such as Shakespeare or Hemingway but to ask the question "what if". I have seen this question raised by so many poor sci-fi authors again and again, mediocre stories with no point or plot. Acts of Conscience asks "what if" we can get through the next 600 years without imploding?? Will we still face the same problems as individuals? As a society? Will we still have the same flaws and shortcomings, and the same dreams? This is a dirty, gritty, dark, depressing and thought provoking spin on "what if". It is a great look at ourselves and the problems we are facing now.
Just as Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451of the 50's, Heinlein with Starship Troopers in the 60's or David Brin's Earth of the early 90's Acts of Conscience looks at where we are now as a race. Is acts of conscience as groundbreaking as the above mentioned classics you ask?? No, it is not that good. But I feel that Barton is heading in the right direction, one of his books someday may be of that caliber.
When I wish to read high art I will read Shakespeare or Hemingway not Barton. When I wish to read Good Science Fiction I will definitely include Barton on my list.