Since this is a very long book and a very long review, I'm going to split it over two days.
As I’ve said elsewhere on the site, I’ve spent more than half my life avoiding this book. Back in high school, it was the one the pretentious kids on the newspaper staff always raved about. They strongly proselytized it, in hopes that I’d rave about it too. I just sat there reading my Heinlein and Niven, thank you very much. “Why do you want to rot your brain reading that Science Fiction Crap?” They’d ask. “Why do you want to rot your brain reading stuff that *Isn’t* Science fiction, I’d reply. Time passed. In college, a whole new set of pretentious people - most of whom smoked Cloves cigarettes and voted Yellow Dog Democrat - raved about the book. “You should read it. It’ll change your whole view on the world,” they’d say, “Much better than wasting your time with that science fiction crap you’re reading.” I’d just sit there with my Niven and my Philip K. Dick - I was done with Heinlein by then - thank you very much, and ignore them and their pretentious ways. (I should mention that while I myself am about as anti-pretentious as you can get, I have usually hung out on the fringes of the same circles as pretentious folk because traditionally, they don’t want to talk sports, and generally speaking it was easier to make out with pretentious chicks than with good, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth type women who were actually interested in learning something. Make of that what you will.
Anyway, a year or two ago, our own Doubting Thomas - an occasional commentator on our site - told me that he’d read “Voyage” by Stephen Baxter if I’d read “Atlas Shrugged.” He described it as his Bible, so I couldn’t really say ‘no,’ now could I?
So here’s the funny thing: I’d been avoiding this novel for twenty odd years because pretentious people raved about and, in their pretentious way, they always managed to disparage what I liked in the process. They’d go on about how meaningful and life changing it is, how it would challenge my beliefs, how it would expand my mind, all that kind of stuff. Never once did they say “It’s a science fiction novel. It’s got ray guns and everything.” If they’d said that, I would have jumped right in to it instantly.
Of course they may not have *known* it was a Science Fiction novel themselves. It’s been my experience that pretentious folk will go way the hell out of their way to avoid saying something is science fiction. Thus, my high school lit teacher denied to his dying breath that 1984 and Brave New World were SF, though they very clearly were. (Future Dystopias are the mother’s milk of the genre, after all.) My high school English professor and I got in to a strong argument about whether or not “Lord of the Flies” was SF. It was, since it was a post apocalyptic tale of survival after a nuclear war, as, for that matter, was “Alas, Babylon.” I’d assumed this problem would evaporate when I got in to college, but, no. If anything it got worse. People who staunchly refused to admit that Vonnegut wrote a bunch of SF novels, or that Philip K. Dick’s later novels counted. “He’s just using the aliens as a metaphor, it’s not like he’s actually saying they exist.” Well, duh, Clementine, what exactly do you think SF authors do? Lathe of Heaven, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Time Machine, Ada, From the Earth to the Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey for gosh sakes - all of these were repeated, ridiculously said to be straight literary fiction by people who were very well educated, very full of themselves, and who should have known better.
But apparently they didn’t.
To be honest, I think they really didn’t know what Science Fiction was. They’d seen Star Wars, of course, and heard of Trek, but for whatever reason it didn’t pop their cork, or maybe they’d simply outgrown the cork popping and looked upon it now as an embarrassing youthful waste of time. Though I’d always assumed it was a total refusal to admit that the lowbrow stuff that I liked could in any way be mistaken for the exalted glories of the stuff they liked, but now that I think about it, they may simply not have realized that