27 October 2014

Books: Leaping to the Stars by David Gerrold (2002)

Sometimes I feel like an unreliable narrator, especially when talking about my earliest age, most of which existed (obviously) but most of which I’ve forgotten. I know, somewhere in the mid 1970’s I began to read books, but when and what started me on that route is very unclear. But if I read any books, say between 8 and 10, I’m not sure. All I had –until I got a bike for my communion, was the library located within my grade school. The big public library of Schaumburg eventually called my name after I figured out the route to get there on my bike.

I remember reading Jaws back in 1975, but I’m unsure if I understood any of it (and I have never re-read it). And I tried to read a few of the original Star Trek books Bantam published back then, but again, I’m not really sure I read any of them (but my brother collected them and somehow, I ended up with them. Still have them). 

As a youth, I never read The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. For reasons that I also fail to understand, these books held little appeal. Perhaps, at that young age, I was already beginning to like other stuff, the less popular titles like The Three Investigators (which no one seems to remember). I’ve mentioned before that what appeals to me in such arenas as music, movies and books is generally stuff opposite of what is popular. So maybe by liking the little remembered Three Investigators shows my likes for the odd and little read was set long before I understood it.

When I entered high school in the fall of 1977 I discovered Agatha Christie. Here’s another mystery (if you can excuse the turn of the phrase):  I cannot fully comprehend how I ended up reading her stuff. I mean, I went through one book after another of hers during that 1977-78 year and well into 1979, but why I found her books appealing is still a conundrum to me.

But 1979 was a watershed year for me. I discovered fantasy novels. And from then on out, I read a ton of sword and sorcery books, the good, the bad and the ugly. I tried science fiction from time to time, but found I could not figure them out. Part of it was, I felt, that the books philosophical ideas, its metaphors and complex science were beyond me (again, I found no thrill reading the math need to calculate the fuel needed to get in and out of orbit of a planet; I liked the magical aspect of the Enterprise “doing” it, but not explaining the “how” of it). I tried Arthur C. Clark, Robert Heinlein and even Isaac Asimov, but their books never seemed to grab my attention the way fantasy had (yes, the space opera of Star Trek and Star Wars appealed to me, but they were not real science fiction books).

In my first posting about reading the novels of David Gerrold, I pointed this out. But I was determined to read this series, despite the fact that I knew there was going to be passages in the book that explained, in great detail, the why and how of space travel. 

And while I knew science fiction was about setting a story in the near future –close enough to look and feel like tomorrow, but far enough to get away with some technological advances- but the gist of these stories was noting that we human’s problems remain the same as today. For the longest time, this did not seem to appeal to me. I was, I admit, beguiled by Gene Roddenberry’s utopian ideals of the 23rd Century of Star Trek.  

Now, with reading Gerrold’s Dingillian trilogy, I’ve circled back to books I probably should’ve read a long, long time ago.

Leaping to the Stars is the exciting conclusion to the series. We start where we left off, with Douglas, Charles and Bobby (along with Dad, Mom, her girlfriend Bev, and Mickey, Douglas’ boyfriend) agreeing to head off the troubled Luna and leave the moon and the Earth behind forever after they realize that HARLIE, the advanced artificial intelligence device packed into the body of a toy monkey, was the whole reason this adventure began. With Earth now falling to pieces and potentially to never again to regain any status, Lunar Authority has decided they will become the power in the system and that means getting HARLIE (it was here that the boys Dad was killed. I understand Gerrold's choice in this trope -now Charles must fully grow up and achieve everything his Dad wanted, but I thought it was pointless). But the Dingillian’s are a clever bunch and with HARLIE “bonded” to Charles, they board a ship to take them to Outbeyond, one the farthest Earth colonies in the solar system. It sounds bleak and backbreaking, but it gives the boys something they’ve wanted since the start, freedom. 

But, of course, nothing goes as planned. These colonists, in particular Charles, face pressure from Revelationists, a fundamentalist religious group traveling aboard the Cascade to their own colony on the way to Outbeyond. The Revelationists believe HARLIE is evil and must be destroyed, along with Charles and the crew of the Cascade and anyone else that does not agree with them. Still, some of the rhetoric they spout does get the best of Charles, who begins to have some uncertainty about HARLIE's true motives.

The only negative aspect I can really give about the series (and something that I’ve written about with The Expanse series written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck -under the pen name James S. A. Corey), is that the villains are pretty cartoonish (yes, religion is good and bad, corporations are always bad). I mean, it’s a fun read and all, but you need to get past the dysfunctional family caricatures to get to Gerrold’s real purpose here, proposing moral and ethical dilemmas and how to work them out. Here Gerrold shines and I enjoyed those discussions. 

It may, in the end, get me to read more science fiction now. But we’ll see. We’ll see.

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