Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review: 'Inherit the Stars' by James P. Hogan

 3 / 5 Stars

By 1977, many fans had become tired of New Wave content and were eager to see a newer generation of hard SF novels come upon the scene. It was thus apt timing for Del Rey to issue ‘Inherit the Stars’, the first novel by British writer James P. Hogan. Hogan, who passed away this past July, met with considerable success with ‘Inherit’ and went on to write a number of well-received books, including the sequels ‘The Gentle Giants of Ganymede’ (1978), ‘Giant’s Star’ (1981), ‘Entoverse’ (1991) and ‘Mission to Minerva’ (2005).

Del Rey took pains to present ‘Inherit’ as something new and progressive in SF. The cover features a realistic, eye-catching illustration by Darrell Sweet, in marked contrast to the abstract artwork that occupied many New Wave paperback covers. The advertising blurb from Isaac Asimov compares Hogan to Arthur Clarke, then the reigning king of hard SF. [Needless to say, comparisons to Samuel Delaney, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, or other decidedly New Wave authors probably weren’t considered by the Del Rey editorial staff].

In 2027, a UN expedition on the Moon comes across the space-suited corpse of a man lodged in a small cavern just under the lunar surface. Carbon dating indicates the corpse is 50,000 years old; his equipment is unlike anything ever manufactured on Earth, and the writing in his notebook is unknown to any linguist. ‘Charlie’ clearly came to the Moon from somewhere else. But where was ‘somewhere else’ ? And what implications does Charlie have for the origin of the human race ?

‘Inherit’ is unabashed hard SF. The main character is a physicist, his right-hand man an engineer. Any psychological angst generated by the narrative revolves solely around solving the grand scientific puzzle posed by the discovery of ‘Charlie’ in his crypt on the Moon. Labored dissections of personal relationships, thoughts, emotions, etc. are avoided. Conversations are to the point, and devoid of references to angst and despair, stylistic tropes much beloved by New Wave authors. At times the book can become quite didactic, although Hogan usually breaks his lectures off before the reader’s eyes can glaze over. Almost every chapter introduces yet another ‘cosmic’ revelation, with the reasoning behind these revelations given an earnest disclosure.

‘Inherit’ does indeed borrow many of its themes from Clarke, particularly ‘2001’. But Hogan does a good job with his story, however derivative; he writes as well as, if not better, than Clarke (and for that matter Asimov). Looking back nearly 34 years later, it’s easy to see how the fan base, tired of the more self-indulgent tenor of so much of mid-70s ‘speculative fiction’, was ready and willing to embrace SF that successfully updated the traditional mind-set of the genre.

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