I like to find ‘lost classics’–those books, usually published as disposable genre quickies, that really have an impact on people yet are never on the ‘100 Best’ lists. This one has poked its head up from time to time and I finally read it.
It’s the story of a devastated future, where humanity seems to be on its last legs. A leader of a country that knows both machine guns and horse-drawn carriages reveals that there is a distant place called the yards where not only the plans, but the components of a seven-mile-long starship are hidden, from the forgotten past. The leader’s idea is to use the building of this ship as a rallying-point for the rebuilding of the nation. The decades-long story of the starship’s construction fills up the rest of this slim (<160 pages) book.
Written in the 60’s, this could easily be read as a distorted view of the space program as a diversion from other issues, or as how such an inspirational idea as going into space really can pull a nation together.
Instead of one Heinelin-esque hero being the center of the story, we see a series of characters move across the stage of history as the building of the starship leads to political infighting, sacrificial battles waged for propaganda purposes, and foreign fears of what the starship’s completion might mean for others. A character who we’ve been following for pages may suddenly be dead off-stage as we leap years or decades ahead, with the starship being the main ‘character.’
Will the starship be completed? If so, what happens then?
I flew through this book because it is an original, an epic told in a chamber-group style. The descriptions are succinct yet vivid (a tower in the yards is briefly described in a way that made me a little woozy). This is not for those who like their epics at phone book-length, but for those who like a story with a point, a message, well-told.
I have only one real complaint about the book, which is that there are some logic issues and the ultimate ‘big picture’ we see at the very end. But these are indeed minor issues. This was just an absorbing, fun and thought-provoking read–that’s what I expect from a book and this one gave me all that (plus a simple but evocative John Schoenherr cover).
This was reprinted a few years ago but it still seems to have been lost in the tangle of SF adventures. I look forward to reading Geston’s other books, and hope others will pick up on this one–it deserves to be better-known.