Last Starship from Earth Paperback – Jun 2 1972
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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.
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.
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 !
2006 April 17
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.