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Last Starship from Earth [Paperback]

John Boyd
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite novel Jan. 27 2004
Format:Paperback
John Boyd wrote that his ideal reader "should have the mentality of a Southern stock-car racer, be a Baptist with a sense of detachment, have a well-developed sense of the absurd, and be fascinated with the quirks and accomplishments of the human animal." His dystopian novel, The Last Starship from Earth, is witty, intelligent, playful, subtle, ingenious, and evocative. I've read it many times over the last twenty years. Boyd's later books, although interesting, never equalled this debut effort, which was very well received when it came out in 1968. I guess you're only as good as your last movie, book, etc. A unique sensibility, nonetheless.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite novel Jan. 27 2004
By Luigi Warren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
John Boyd wrote that his ideal reader "should have the mentality of a Southern stock-car racer, be a Baptist with a sense of detachment, have a well-developed sense of the absurd, and be fascinated with the quirks and accomplishments of the human animal." His dystopian novel, The Last Starship from Earth, is witty, intelligent, playful, subtle, ingenious, and evocative. I've read it many times over the last twenty years. Boyd's later books, although interesting, never equalled this debut effort, which was very well received when it came out in 1968. I guess you're only as good as your last movie, book, etc. A unique sensibility, nonetheless.
20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You've got to be kidding me... July 21 2006
By F.T. Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Those other reviews, I mean. The ones that fall all over themselves praising this book. I had heard good things about it, but when I finally got around to reading it I found it a great disappointment and a novel I labored mightily to finish. To be honest, I really don't understand what the excitement is all about. The novel starts out as a cliched dystopia, the kind where people are split into rigid castes and go around with names like Hirsute 5, A-6, 33411-CR-445. After a while, we learn that this is technically an alternate history novel, one where the universe of the story diverged from ours about two thousand years ago. The speculative science elements are amateurishly done, with technical words thrown around meaninglessly, on a par with, "According to these blueprints, if we double loop the tachyon incubator, the solution for negative time will be created by the increased flux convergence." The protagonist is arrested on the grounds of sedition, and there is a somewhat interesting though difficult to figure out trial scene, and then the hero is flown via starship to a planet of exile, which turns out to be something quite different. From then on, much of the story reads like Heinlein in his latter-day socio-wacko phase. Along the way, the author seems to enjoy dropping little in-jokes, such as setting a description up so that he can term one character a "master baiter." Although there are some intriguing elements, this is a work of rank amateurism.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hardly a "lost classic" July 17 2011
By Mithridates VI of Pontus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
John Boyd's The Last Starship from Earth (1968) is a rather forgettable and predictable alternative history/science fiction novel incorrectly described by some reviewers as a lost classic. The basic divergent point in history (which is only mentioned near the end) is the only redeeming feature of the work because the society he's created becomes slightly more cohesive and realized. However, Boyd's reliance on time-travel (unless used in a somewhat less predictable way) to make any interest in the final third of the work is a cop-out. Boyd's prose continually falters -- I dared not count the times "atavistic" was used.

Avoid unless alternative-histories are your Holy Grail.

Brief Plot Summary (some spoilers)

Haldane IV, a young mathematician, falls in love with Helix a young poet. In this society classes based on profession are stringently adhered to and partners (within the class) are selected by a computer. The mixing of classes is forbidden. Haldane decides to study the "mathematics of poetry" as an excuse to meet up with Helix.

Haldane's Earth is divergent from our own at at crucial point in history -- Jesus. Instead of dying, Jesus leads a victorious revolt against the Romans. Here's Boyd's only redeeming concept -- Christianity re-conceptualized as a religion of might/destruction instead of a religion based on self-sacrifice. Also sometime in the past a famous mathematician (a godlike figure for the class of mathematicians) constructed a computer program which serves as the Pope.

Helix and Haldane's love is doomed and they are caught and tried. The events leading up to the trial when Haldane is interviewed by a church official, a mathematician, a lawyer, a sociologist, and a psychologist are the brightest points in the novel.

Haldane is sent to Hell (an dark ice world) in "the last starship from Earth" and discovers an utopian group of convicts who have set up a secret society. Then the novel is quickly inundated with a deluge of hokey plot twists which fail to deliver any surprise because the characters are lifeless and dull.

Final Thoughts

If you haven't read Read Philip K. Dick's masterful The Man in the High Castle (1962) for a solid alt-history/sci-fi novel pick up a copy NOW. Stay away from Boyd's PKD inspired but laborious and un-involving cavalcade of silly plot twists.

As often happens, the most unusual and fascinating ideas -- a reconceptualizing of Christianity, etc -- are only slightly touched on. What remains are skeletal piles of ideas held together by wholly insipid prose and cardboard characters.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very well woven plot Oct. 13 2012
By Stepinit - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a book that could be made into a special effects movie, this isn't it.
But if your IQ is above the average temperature in Vegas in the summer, this is a very deep story with a detailed plot that all comes together and strangely makes sense. I couldn't put the book down and it has a surprise ending I didn't see coming.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Science Fiction for the Fun Loving Reader and Literary Critic Alike April 16 2006
By Claus Kellermann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Last Starship From Earth (1968) by John Boyd Upchurch - 182 pages - rating: 8/10

What do you get when a Poet, Historian, Social Critic and Scholar of Literature decides to write the classic Science Fiction story ? You get The Last Starship From Earth.

I must be honest and tell you that I almost quit reading this novel after the first 60 or 70 pages. It seemed nothing more than word games and poetic gobbledy goop. By the end of the fifth chapter nothing of any interest or consequence was happening or had happened. The author seemed more intent on demonstrating his vocabulary. Then suddenly the story takes off and I couldn't stop reading it.

Many classical science fiction themes are incorporated effectively and intelligently into the ensuing plot which will go places I guarantee you will not expect but will thoroughly enjoy !

Claus Kellermann
2006 April 17
Sci_Fi_Researcher@yahoo.com
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