Saturday, October 08, 2005

Not a Harraway in Sight: Charles Sheffield, The Cyborg from Earth (New York: Tor, 1998)

Prizes go to this one for a misleading title, but I did like it, which one would expect as this is Charles Sheffield, a good writer and part of the thoughtful, liberal right. This book is part of the same Jupiter series as James P. Hogan's Outward Bound. It's strongly reminiscent of Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy

This time Jeff Kopal, son of an incredibly important ship building family, screws up his entry competition into the space navy. This competition consists of horseriding and archery.

Despite this, he is admitted, and his uncle (his father is probably dead) contrives to get him sent to the border patrol where he finds himself on a ship whose purpose is to trigger a war with the Confluence settlement.

Lots of classic sf politics here: the Kopal family is corrupt and wants the new Adenam field drive. The Navy is a relic of the First World War, with officers selected for their dancing and riding abilities, and the jinners (the engineers) coming from the Pool of unemployed who are really in charge. Unsurprisingly, Jeff (like his long lost uncle Drake) shows every sign of becoming a jinner.

There is a confrontation between the Confluence and Earth and the Confluence comes off best thanks to the ingenuity of the inventor Simon Macafee. Jeff confronts his family and Simon turns out to be the long lost brother. All's well in the sf universe--the government is defeated and a blow is struck for the superiority of the engineer.

But there are some other interesting markers here: lots of science and maths are explained, complete with diagrammes -- we haven't seen much of that elsewhere; as in Outward Bound this book is about a misfit being given the chance to fit into a better society (although Sheffield cheats a bit because Jeff as his reflexes sorted by nanotechnology); but the one that really struck me, that struck me in Outward Bound as well, is that Jeff and his friend Lilian deliberately decide to hold off from (for want of a better word) courtship.

If I go back to earlier comments about dating and love being a hallmark of the YA sf of the 1980s, then it seems that Sheffield and his colleages are consciously repudiating this, gently reminding kids that dating is a distraction from intellectual life, that in effect, he who dates last, is first.


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