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 responsibility. Paradise 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.
Alpha Centuri in the middle future.
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.
- 40kbooks: Exploring Science Fiction | via @SFSignal (suite101.com)
- Best Books of 2010: Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Selections, Focus on Nos. 1–5 (omnivoracious.com)
- Science fiction tells us all laws are local — just like the Web (boingboing.net)