Book Review: Voyage From Yesteryear, by James P. Hogan

My brother loaned me this book to read a few months ago. I’d hoped to like it more, but truth is it took me a while to get through it because it just didn’t keep me engaged. This seems to me to be more of a concept novel that had a plot added in later on.

The concept is fairly interesting: Mankind figures out how to send a colonization ship to Alpha Centauri that, instead of taking people, takes the technology to essentially produce people on arrival from DNA. They also send along a lot of robots to raise these new people. Not long after the ship launches, though, Earth gets pasted in a nuclear war (yes, it was written in the 1980’s) and takes about 50 years to dig back out.

Then a second ship is sent, this one inhabited, to see how the first colony is faring. When they arrive they find that the Chironians (the colonists who settled on the planet they named Chiron) have completely rewritten their society and are rather unsure they want the next generation of colonists coming in and trying to remake them in their own image. Just how far are they willing to go to protect their way of life? And how far are the newcomers willing to go to impose the culture they are accustomed to?

In the Chironians Hogan presents his idea of a utopian society: there are no planetary leaders because there is no need. Everyone works at what they most enjoy, and no money is ever needed. Everyone behaves themselves because they want to (and because the truly anti-social are taken out and shot), people come and go from relationships at will, and families form around common interest rather than genetics.

The concept isn’t all that alien to me. Much of it is actually the ideal my particular religion aspires to. Which, of course, disappointed me a little that Hogan instead decides that religion is an enemy to such cooperative living. But then he’d probably disagree with me that such cooperative living is highly unlikely without people feeling responsible to a higher power. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point.

I was rather disappointed, too, that the people on the second ship to arrive had to be such jerks. It’s evident Hogan didn’t hold much hope for humanity when he wrote this book, as a large portion of his main characters are a rather nasty lot who just can’t seem to accept that the Chironians might not want to change and that their own culture is not ideal. While it’s believable that some of the leaders arrive assuming that this new colony will become their own personal kingdom, I find it hard to accept that so many people have such a hard time understanding what makes the Chironian culture work and an even harder time accepting it.

Meanwhile, I think Hogan falls a little too far in love with his new culture and wants to spend far too long showing it off. Though you know the evil people are still there and still planning to take over, the plot mostly disappears for about half of the book. It comes back in time to make the ending interesting, but even then the outcome was never in doubt for me. I knew the Chironians would pull something out of their hat to save the day.

The main problem with the book, I think, is that it’s dated. Much has changed since the 1980’s, and what may have been a new and interesting idea back then is a little worn these days. While the first part of the book dragged for me, the ending picked up considerably and kept me interested. It just took me a long time to get there, because the first part of the book just didn’t keep calling to me like so many other books do.

Not a bad read, over-all, but just know that it will take a little work to get to the good part.