Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Eating your Pie With a Fork: James P. Hogan, Outward Bound (New York: Tor, 1999).

Outward Bound is an awful lot like Charles Sheffield's High Society. with a touch of Card's Ender's Game. Bright kid from the slums gets into trouble with the law and is offered a second chance, but isn't told precisely what that chance will be. He ends up at a reform school that you *can* opt out of (although the alternatives aren't exactly an incentive) where he learns to be co-operative, to manage his temper and his desire for vengeance, and finds he's both well co-ordinated and with a bent for engineering design. Eventually he ends up in High Orbit on the way out to the Outerzone, anarcho-communitarian colonies which know that Earth will start taking an interest as soon as they make money. Linc fails his final exams, but later we learn that an enemy substituted false exam samples. It all ends up with them kissing and making up, and also with Linc beginning to think about marriage--homosexuality never even gets a mention in this novel.

I sound disparaging but I actually enjoyed it thoroughly. It's a classic pedagogic sf novel which considers what it is we bring our children up to believe. In this book, the training is intended to break the habit of individualistic libertarianism and instead to inculate the idea of independence as an extension of duty. Linc is believable, not perfect, not a superman--he reminds of Matt in Heinlein's Space Cadet. Part of the philosophy of the Outerzone in fact is to take anyone who wants it badly enough--even if their skills are only in filing or in carpentry (which actually turns out to be the equivalent of diamond carving in the new world). The idea is to build a society and engineer the behaviour, not select individuals as supermen. This is not utopia, just a different place, a different way of life.

We mostly stay in Linc's head in this book, which means Hogan uses Linc to make the reader think. Again this is a classic manipulative technique, but Hogan doesn't make it obtrusive. Linc's friends are different enough from him that we see a range of ways to make decisions acceptable to the new society.

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Like the Sheffield, this was part of an experiment in reworking the Heinlein juvenile for the 21st century. The Jupiter list was short-lived, but contained some pretty good reading.

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