Have you read this book?
First let me say that this book came very close to being put away unread. That’s because the opening is written in a way that ignores tense, in that the author switches back and forth between present and past. This made me think the author had no idea what tense was. Which made me think the author had no idea about the mechanics of writing. It didn’t bode well.
Instead of following my first instinct to put the book aside, I pressed on. Once past the opening section, the tense settled and the story became readable. Still, that first section…. sure doesn’t give a good first impression.
On to the story….
Captain Lincoln wakes up the morning of his 80th birthday and the last day of his life. He’s the captain of a spaceship in which exists a very organized and regimented society. Every 5 years, 8 children are born. And every 5 years the 8 children born 80 years earlier are euthanized to make room for the new arrivals. This is the story of Captain Lincoln’s last day.
While there’s some interesting philosophy here, this isn’t a story in the traditional sense. You know, plot, tension, conflict, action, consequence, bad guys, good guys, motivation, etc. It’s simply the meandering tale of an 80 year old passing through his last day, saying his good-byes and trying to impart the wisdom he feels he’s accumulated. This leads to — sorry to say — some pretty boring stuff, one example being half a chapter spent describing peppers.
So while the story is at times insightful in a philosophical sense, it’s at the same time rather dull. Perhaps it seeks to make a statement on entropy, an unchanging society where nothing really happens, everyone’s needs are met, and there’s no conflict or progression? Were the ship’s inhabitants engineered to be this way? Is it supposed to be subtle satire on the sterility of perfection?
This is especially interesting considering some advice Captain Lincoln offers: “Even thought you can’t see it, my son, things are changing. Things ALWAYS change, given enough time and pressure. The very thought of that is scary to some, but change is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. It is a simple fact of life.”
Except that life aboard the ship is the exact opposite of this. Although the potential change of finding a new home persists, on the ship, nothing changes. Ever. Sure, new humans are born and old ones euthanized to make room, but it’s an unchanging society in an unchanging environment. The people accept this without question, the last day is capped off by a celebration, and then the octogenarians are shuffled off the mortal coil. Wash, rinse, repeat.
At novellas length (I don’t think it would have been able to sustain anything much longer) it was a quick read, made even quicker by my skimming over passages akin to the pepper description mentioned above.
It’s worth mentioning the presentation. This is a beautiful book, with accompanying illustrations, quotes, and references that add to the whole.