Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pebble in the Sky

Earth is a radioactive wasteland in the netherworld of the galactic empire. However, some people think it may have been the origin of the human race. An archaeologist is going out there to try to prove his theory that it was the birthplace of humans. Coincidentally, at the same time, the earthlings are plotting to take over the universe, by sending a biological agent to kill off everyone in the galaxy. (Since earth people have evolved so quickly, they are relatively unharmed by this disease that would kill most others.) The earth people are able to do this in part due to a machine that they have created that allows people to rapidly learn and think (as long as they are not killed off first.)

And, just to make sure there is some connection to today, a tailor (Schwartz) walking around mid-20th century Chicago accidentally gets zapped some 50000+ years in to the future by some strange nuclear incident. This guy would end up being the person that helps save the galaxy.

There are plenty of obvious parallels here. Substitute Africa for "earth" and the world for the galaxy, and you could easily have been writing about contemporary events. You could even through something like AIDS in there for the disease. (The book predated AIDS, but there were plenty of other "old world" diseases that have caused problems in the world.) The moderns have spread out of the "old" world, and now see the differently-evolved old-worlders as primitive. They wonder why they stick to there old ways when there is so much new that they are missing out. At the same time, they don't want them to be too closely intertwined in the world system.

The goal of the earth people could be a commentary on Napolean, Mao or many of the other large-scale empire-builders. They often come out in the name of liberation. But in the end, they simply replace one type of despot with another.

It could even be commentary on the black-white relations in the U.S. Rather than seek
"integration", some of the "opressed" would like to become the "opressors". After all, this is the system they are used to. Somebody has to be on the bottom, right?

In addition to the geo-political slant, we also have population control and eugenics. People are supposed to be euthanized when they turn 60. The only exception is for extraordinary talents that must be approved by the high minister (without recourse to appeal.) Why this is needed with such a small earth population is not clearly explained.

With all the politics, there is still room for a story. It was a page-turner, yet surprisingly flat. Schwartz seems to discover new avenues of his powers just as he needs them. Yet, he doesn't use them to his full ability. (If he can read people's minds and force them to do things, why are people still negotiating with him?) The climatic jailing and kidnapping seems to drag out for way to long. Then, after the rockets have been supposedly been launched and the galaxy is about to be destroyed, everyone behaves nobody seems to care. So much for suspense. We just have the good guy inform us that he was secretly controlling people to go bomb the base on his own.

While the writing had much to be desired, it did create an interesting world, and posed a number of contemplative questions. It was also one of his first works, so there was plenty of time in the career for the writing to improve.

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