Paradise Passed, Jerry Oltion (Wheatland Press)

Grade: Β — Really good book within the genre, probably worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but may have a style of writing that may not appeal to all readers.

In brief:

I really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction. It is a clean and easy read, with good characters that avoid the stereotypes and give s a balenced view to concepts such as religion and social responsibilityParadise Passed is an excellent example of a subgenre I would classify as Space Exploration Adventure, an apparently dying breed.  It is, however, Hard Science Fiction (a.k.a. relies more on science fact than on fanciful technologies imagination and avoids flowery language) in the classic vein, and to that end, I’m not certain it will appeal to those who are not already scence fiction fans.

Setting:

Alpha Centuri in the middle future.

In Depth:

Eighteen years prior to the start of the book, a small group of men and women began a journey to our nearest interstellar neighbor with the plan to colonize the planets they encountered there.  En route, children became adults, and even adults changed as cultural drift created a new faith among some the micro-society.  Though the arising of a religion on board the ship caused some minor conflicts in the journey, things come to a head when the ship reaches its destination and find a perfectly inhabitable world ripe for the taking.  Only, there is just one little problem…

Going out where no one has gone before, making first contact and exploring new planets used to be the bread and butter of SciFi, but nowadays such tales are few and far between.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I read a story about humans going into space and being the first people to discover new worlds and/or new species.  Actually, I could… it was when I read Paradise Passed.  But unlike those classic space operas of old, this book raises some interesting social questions and has a totally believable use of technology. 

One element I enjoyed about this book in particular is that it did not give simplified solutions to the moral questions it raised.  In the case of faith vs. science, Jerry avoided the Sci-Fi cliché of creating of a simple straw man to represent religion.  Sure he has some extremists, but he also presents individuals with balanced viewpoints. Oh, obviously there is a pro-science bias in the telling (this is Science Fiction after all), but he does not simply wave away the concerns or ideas of the pro-religion side of the debate, and indeed ensures that the story avoids explaining away all the religious views. 

Additionally, in the moral dilemma of the book, the question of cultural contact, Jerry presents a morally ambiguous set of solutions.  One cannot turn around and say that one set of people is right, and the other wrong. There are problems with all sides of the equation, and that is what makes this story so interesting.

I don’t know if Jerry intends to write a sequel to this book; it doesn’t need one and I know he hates pointless sequels.  Still, I would love to see a novel (or novella?) that shows what has happened twenty years later.  I hope one day, he decides to do so.  I would love to revisit the questions, characters and worlds that he introduced.

For full disclosure: I am friends with Jerry, and so it is possible that my opinion has been biased.  The vast number of awards he’s won and mammoth publication list, however, is a good indicator that I’m not alone in appreciating his works. 

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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15 Responses to Paradise Passed, Jerry Oltion (Wheatland Press)

  1. readysetpitch says:

    I do know that Jerry Oltion is famous for his short stories and it’s great to know that his books are just as well written.

    Do you know if he has a collection of short stories published anywhere? I would love to get my hands on that!

    Thanks!!

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Indeed he does! Several!

      Twenty Questions , Wheatland, December 2003 is the most recent collection of his short stories, but others include
      Love Songs of a Mad Scientist, Hypatia Press, September 1993 (Short story collection, contains “Much Ado” thru “Big Two-Sided River.)
      Tales from the Yuletide, Story Books (Self-published), December 1994. (Collection of Jerry’s and his wife Kathy’s Christmas stories. Kathy is quite an accomplished author in her own right, in case you didn’t know),
      and
      Singing in the Rain, Hypatia Press, November 1998 (Volume 2 of short story collection, contains 22 more stories.)

      Of course Jerry publishes short stories quite frequently… Check out the newstands.

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    Mmmm, sounds interesting — I’ve never even heard of Jerry Oltion…

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Jerry has a really impressive list of publications, has been nominated repeatedly for the Hugo, and won the Nebula and Seiun. He has a very clean style of writing and keeps his science both realistic and accessible.

  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    I rarely read any science fiction written after 1990 — that’s my problem 😉

    The 50s, 60s, 70s are my favorite domain!

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Ah! Retro-Sci Fi!

      There are some excellent post-70’s works… particularly among the British. There are also some aweful ones. Still, I must admit I have a soft spot for the Golden Age of sci-fi.

  4. Joachim Boaz says:

    I like hard sci-fi when I can still grasp the science…

    Writers who spew complete nonsense (maybe because I know very little science as a historian — haha) at lightning speeds (Charles Stross is the worst of the bunch) drive me nuts.

    However, if it’s social sci-fi, or space opera, or some hybrid from the 90s I’m slightly more inclined… I do like Neal Stephenson’s ‘Snow Crash’ and ‘The Diamond Age’ and enjoy some of Simmons’ works, like ‘Hyperion’ and ‘Fall of Hyperion.’

  5. Thomas Evans says:

    I agree. Some Hard Sci Fi seems to put forward the technology for the primary purpose of showing off, rather than it adding to the story or atmosphere.
    Jerry uses science to add to the story, not replace it. His biology seems to work, his starships make sense and are based on real tech, but his stories are focussed on the stories. In this case, the tale is really about the social and moral questions arising in regards to colonizing a new world… The technology and biology only serve to build a believable backdrop to the story.

  6. Joachim Boaz says:

    Oh, and Robinson’s Red Mars, (green and blue) series — atrocious, how NOT to tell a story — 50,000 characters that we read two dinky chapters on in the entire book and whom we care nothing about since they are often abandoned by the author after the first third… Red Mars was the best of the bunch but the wonder wore off really quickly — it’s still probably the best Mars colonization book out there (the first quarter was amazing). I’ve yet to read Bova’s take on Mars settlement….

  7. Thomas Evans says:

    Actually, most everything I’ve read on Mars colonization is tremendously unexciting… especially considering how exciting the concept of it really is. Just something like a Marsquake could really cause major problems.

  8. Joachim Boaz says:

    So Bova’s take on the subject isn’t worth it?

    I’ve never been that impressed with him anyway…

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Actually, I haven’t actually read Bova’s piece… Sorry if I seemed like I had. I was using a wide sweeping brush to self justify why I stopped reading any of them. Mia culpa

  9. Joachim Boaz says:

    So, what do you think is the best book about the colonization another planet in our solar system? I’m in a hard sci-fi mood at the moment!

  10. Thomas Evans says:

    Well, actually, I think Paradise Passed covers much of the initial problems of colonization very well. It is, however, a bit more of an exploration piece than a colonization piece. For Hard Sci Fi, I’d do this… or look at Reynold’s Revalation Space (this first in the series).

    For strict colonization? Well.., can there be anything to match The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? It covers both colonization AND social revolution.

  11. Joachim Boaz says:

    Yeah, I like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.’

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