leedock’s CBR-III Review #28-“Across the Universe” – Beth Revis

When I am travelling by plane, particularly on long flights, in the back of my mind is the tiny but persistent voice that says “I am trapped in this little tin can and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t get out”. Well, I could get out, but ignoring the tiny voice is better than getting sucked out of the emergency exit and plummeting to my death.

Godspeed is a spaceship on a mission to Centauri-Earth, a planet capable of sustaining human life, because, presumably, we have finally succeeded in almost destroying ours. Scientists, military and some “non-essential” family members are cryogenically sealed in the ship to awaken fresh and ready to colonize when the ship lands. Others are loaded in alive and awake to populate the ship and begin working and living in a simulated Centauri-Earth situation in preparation  for the real colonists frozen downstairs. Only problem is that it already takes 300 years to get there, and the engines are slowing down.

The narrative is split between two teenagers, Amy and Elder.  Amy is a non-essential family member who was cryogenically frozen with her parents. Elder, born on Godspeed,  is the next in line to rule the ship. As her parents still lie frozen, Amy is “woken up” too early. She is forced to deal with the realization that she will never see them again (or at least not until she is older than they are now) and to adapt to Godspeed’s world. Ruled by a dictator like Elder, the ship’s society consists mostly of a tightly controlled farming community of hard-working, slow-thinking folks. The problem is that Amy’s struggle is really not all that interesting and her reaction to it is a little on the self-righteous whiny side. She wasn’t a very likable character.

The intriguing part of Revis’ book is the exploration of what kind of society can function in a fish bowl.  How would you keep boredom, discontent and restlessness at bay when there is nowhere to go?  What sort of rule would be necessary to keep us going generation after generation under those circumstances? This is the struggle of Elder, and an infinitely more sympathetic character.  Raised without knowing his parents, which might hinder his ability to rule, he is at the mercy of the teachings of Eldest whose warped sense of human history has been further filtered by generations of previous Elders.

The cover would suggest that this is a love story, but there isn’t really any romance here. Elder and Amy gravitate to each other, not out of a “you-are-the-only-one-in-the-universe-for-me” kind of way, but because both of them are other and isolated from the rest. Amy knows what it is like to run free without totally repressive physical or societal boundaries. Elder is desperate to change the way Eldest controls the body and spirit of Godspeed’s people. He wants to allow them to know the truth, but is afraid of the cost.

The ethics of using medication to promote acceptable behavior, forced contraception, racism, and ageism are all explored here. Would we need to be controlled to live through something like that or, in the absence of that control, would we still be able to supress the urge to open up that emergency exit?

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