Saturday, June 10, 2017

Harvest Of Stars - Poul Anderson

   1993; 531 pages.  Book One (out of four) in the “Harvest of Stars” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Science-Fiction; Dystopia; Speculative Fiction.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    A few centuries from now, Earth is a quite different place.  Canada, Mexico, and the USA are no more; they’ve all be conglomerated into one totalitarian entity, ruled by the Avantists, a decidedly leftist-leaning group.

    Rebellion isn’t exactly boiling over, but it simmers in places; one of which, surprisingly, is the mega-corporation called Fireball Enterprises.  Its CEO is a download (more about those later) named Anson Guthrie., and it’s just a matter of time before the Security Police (“Sepo”) arrest him on some trumped-up charge.

    But Guthrie’s in hiding in North America, and ace spaceship-pilot Kyra Davis has been dispatched to smuggle him out of there.  That is no small task since Orwellian technology exists and it has to be assumed that the Sepo can see and hear just about anything they want to within the Avantist realm.  We hope Kyra succeeds, but the question arises: Where on Earth will Guthrie be safe?

    Well, let’s think outside the box, er… sphere.  How about the Moon?

What’s To Like...
    Harvest of Stars is divided into three discrete sections.  Part 1 (“Kyra”) is the longest (40% of the book), and is mostly a dystopian thriller.  Part 2 (“Eiko”; 30% of the book) focuses more about political intrigue, and Part 3 (“Demeter”; 30% of the book) is where speculative Science Fiction finally kicks into gear.

    There’s a Dramatis Personae list at the very beginning, which I found very useful.  Not a lot of time is devoted  to the backstories of the characters, but both minor and major ones receive names, and often pop up again hundreds of page later.  So it is nice to be able to flip to the start of the book whenever someone reappears, and get refreshed about who they are.  There are some flashbacks, but the author signals this by inserting the word “Database” into the chapter’s header.  I thought this was an innovative way to avoid confusion.

    The settings are somewhat limited for the first two sections: Earth, the Moon (“Luna”), and an orbiting space colony called “L-5”.  The settings in the Demeter section are much more interesting: three planets circling a binary set of suns in the faraway Alpha Centauri cosmos.

    The story takes place far enough in the future to where a separate race, the Lunarians, has evolved on the moon.  The newly-evolved Metamorphs on Earth were also neat to meet.  Poul Anderson mixes in some Arabic and French vocabulary, and a slew of Spanish expressions.  In this future world, we’re all polyglots.  There’s only a smidgen of cussing, and even a couple of new euphemisms: “MacCannon” and “flinking”.  I liked those.
    The thing I enjoyed the most about Harvest Of Stars were the “downloads”.  By the time of the storyline, technology allows you to “clone your brain” into a mechanical body.  Indeed, you can make multiple copies of your mental/psychological self.  This adds a certain amount of mayhem to the plot, and also gives some innovative new options for coping with the dilemma of intergalactic voyages, and of course, immortality.

    Harvest Of Stars is a standalone book, as well as part of a series.  I found the ending to be superb; it'll leave a lump in your throat.

Kewlest New Word  ...
Halidom (n.) : something regarded as sacred; a holy relic.
Others : Agley (adj.); Gyrocephalic (adj.); Pollulated (v.); Contumacious (adj.); Fleered (v.); Knaggy (adj.); Asymptote (n.); Apotheosis (n.); Quivira (n.).

    “Sing a song of spacefolk, a pocketful of stars.
    Play it on the trumpets, harmonicas, guitars.
    When the sky was opened, mankind began to sing:
    ‘Now’s the time to leave the nest, the wind is on the wing!’”  (pg. 343)

    ”Eiko, it’s such a forlornly long shot.”
    “Does that mean it is ridiculous?” the other replied.  Her gaze went into the swaying, whispering, light-unrestful green.  “Some fantasies came to me while I sat, often and often, high in the Tree.  Fancies about evolution.  It has no purpose, the biologists tell us, no destiny; it simply happens, as blindly and wonderfully as rainbows.  Nevertheless the scum on ancient seas becomes cherry blossoms, tigers, children who see the rainbow and marvel.”  (pg. 389)

 “Word would leak out like … like electrons quantum-tunneling through any potential barrier I can raise.”  (pg. 22)
    For me, the whole first section of Harvest Of Stars was a slog.  This was probably because I read Poul Anderson books for Science Fiction adventures, and frankly, there isn’t any to be found for quite a while in this book.  Yes, our heroes are running from the Big Brother types, but I never got the sense that they were about to be caught.

    We at last get up into space in the second section, but it’s still kind of a slow go.  Things aren’t helped by Anderson seeming to want to tell you all about his libertarian viewpoints and why leftists are such meanies.  Plus, he never seems to use one word, when a dozen will serve just as well.

    But if you can trudge through all the politics and tediousness, you arrive at section 3, and that, quite frankly, is a masterpiece, and demonstrates why Poul Anderson is considered a top-tier sci-fi writers of all time.

    We’ll rate section 1 at 5½ stars, section 2 at 6½ stars, and section 3 a whopping 9 stars, just to make the math come out even.  Averaging them out comes to:

    7 Stars.  And BTW, the concept of downloading one’s self was extremely timely, as I am also currently reading a non-fiction book about Philosophy.  The author, Peter Cave, gives a number of situational conundrums, including the fascinating one: “what if you could clone yourself?” (*)

    As any good philosopher would, Cave asks all sorts of muse-worthy questions, such as which one is the “real you”?  Further, if you were to kill your clone (or if the clone kills you), would we call it murder?  Suicide?  Or was no crime at all committed?  Food for thought.

(*) : actually, Cave speculates about what would happen to "you" if the two lobes of your brain were put into separate bodies.  But it works out to be the same as being cloned.

No comments: