B Madison, WI United States,
January 29, 2008
Dangerous Voyage to Alpha Centauri is an excellent book
I like a book that begins with a joke: "There are three kinds of people: those who can count and those who cannot. "Not hilarious, but excellent foreshadowing for the theme: how much can we count on immortality to solve our problems. Or to put it another way, what is there to be afraid of if we no longer fear death? Hint: a population explosion and "no exit" from complex human relationships. The chapters barrel ahead in this indeterminate universe, but author Fritz Reichert, himself a scientist, focuses on a very clever plot line that encompasses his theme beautifully.
The now-ageless (but disappointed with life) Tim Turner volunteers for a forty-year solo space probe to find inhabitable planets for overpopulated earth. Here's the ingenious part. His ex-lover plants an android on the ship ostensibly to keep him physically healthy and provide company. The inventor is a woman he jilted who is out for revenge. I loved the originality of this, and the author gives the narrative a polish that is both satisfying to readers and keeps them on their toes. And he works in some interesting science without hitting us over the head with it. Great book cover, well realized scenes, literate and intelligent storyline with genuine surprise and suspense. This is a gem transcending 90% of the other science fiction I have read recently. By the way, the android is named "Tao," meaning "path."
The journey itself, while filled with external threats (hostile extraterrestrials, Planet X--the planet of death--and a conspiracy to prevent his reentering earth's realm) turns interestingly introspective as he obsesses over the two women of his life. His aching solitude is in stark contrast with the overpopulated earth. The two women, in some odd way, represent the acceptance and denial of the individual. If the ending is a bit anti-climactic (though hopeful), "Dangerous Voyage Alpha Centauri" is the intriguing dilemma of, what is versus what is not. I read this book in the middle of a sub-zero winter, my wife gone for two weeks visiting her new granddaughter, communication mostly through e-mail on the computer. I feel I lived this book and at a certain point was curious to find out whether or not Tim and I would survive. If you're reading this now, you know we did.
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February 24, 2008:
One is the loneliest number in this astute, science-tinged account of one man’s solo journey to another solar system.
A scientific breakthrough in the mid-20th century—the Holy Grail of medicine: a cure for aging—provides the spark that sets this story in motion. Psychologist Anna Binder, among many others who share her rosy view of this “miracle” cure, rejoices now that there’s time for both children and a career.
But some, like her lover physicist Tim Turner, only see the drawback that accompanies such an achievement—rampant overpopulation to the tune of one billion new people a year, which will further tax the planet’s scarce resources.
Tim’s work on vital recycling technologies is now too important to put on hold for a family, so he looks on helplessly as the love of his life packs up and leaves. Irony is the order of the day when Tim’s next lover, Yang Lou-ni, decides that, in these troubled times, a career in politics is more important than their relationship.
Reichert cleverly mingles these personal struggles with the broader forces driving chaos in the world around his characters. Thus, it is more out of despair over two loves lost than any altruistic motives that Tim applies, and is conveniently selected, to undertake the titular “dangerous voyage” of the book—a one-man, 40-year expedition to search for human-habitable worlds as a safety valve for Earth’s population pressures.
Tim’s travels are the familiar stuff of serious science fiction, save in one respect:
Reichert has made an admirable effort at presenting a psychologically complex account of the unbearable isolation of four decades alone in space. But his effort is not entirely successful. Tim’s conversations with himself and ravings against inanimate objects often become tedious although they create just enough suspense to keep the journey interesting.