Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Ghost

TWO! Two major three day summer holiday weekends without a major movie coming out. NO! Transformers 3 doesn't count at all! It's NOT a major movie. It's the second sequel to a crap series of movies based very poorly off of a cartoon that was successful when I was 8 and a complete mess a couple of other times. I love me some Optimus Prime, but these movies only prove how bad that unmade Superman movie had to be in order to get Michael Bay to refuse the job for artistic reasons.

So instead you get to hear about this book that I finished reading.

I have read a LOT of Piers Anthony books. One summer I'd go to visit a friend rather than go home after work. He had an insane amount of the Xanth series. There were 17 or 18 books in the series back then. There are currently 34 and 2 more on the way. He also set me up with the Incarnations of Immortality series. I saw a hard copy set of the "Incarnations..." for sale in college. By the time I went home and got my checkbook and returned they were gone. But Yummy got me a set for Christmas a couple of years back. She even got Piers to sent autographed stickers to shove in a couple of them.

So when I saw a book of his that I hadn't read (and wasn't some Xanth book in the middle of a massive series) at a big library book sale I grabbed it. It's a 1986 book called "Ghost". It's a bit deceptive to call it a 1986 book since the introduction talks about all the versions it went through and with each one another attempt to sell it. I have to assume it took him so many attempts to sell it because it's more than a little trippy. But, having so much time to work and rework it there came a lot of opportunity to include a lot of symbolism and ideas mentioned early in the book that would become significant later. Stuff that probably wasn't in the early drafts, but showed up as he spent time thinking about the book.

So, anyway... trippy.

The book starts as a fairly sensible sci-fi book. Earth is short on resources. Cars are gone. Everything is electric and there's not a great deal of that. Public transit shut down recently. There's some pedal powered helium sail balloons that make the skies like the surface of a really busy lake of sail boats. But there's still a space program that consumes a lot of power. So it's not popular. They have to draft people into it. A few stay. They're required to return to Earth at least once a year for a month. It takes a lot of power, but they gotta keep the loyalty of those in space. Can't have them rebelling and all that.

Back on Earth for only a few hours our hero is called back into service, promoted two ranks, and given command of a ship. Not just a space ship. One of them new fangled time ships they've been experimenting with. Their job is to go after another time ship that took off into the crazy distant future and was lost. The original ship was looking for new power sources. So, if you see any of them, bring them back, too.

Time travel requires a different link with home. They have a psychic on the ship to monitors a beacon back to their own time. But the beacon can be disturbed by strong emotions. So right off the captain starts chatting with the crew one at a time to see who is disturbing things. As he goes he starts mentally picking which of his 7 member crew is which of the 7 deadly sins. Could the disturbance be because of the rules in space that any of the crew must be sexually available to anyone else? After all, there's an engaged couple and an engaged to be engaged couple. One of them seems violently upset that his pet theory of how the universe ends has been disrupted. Another has a nice calm chat and then kills herself. Gotta cover that up. That'll definitely upset the crew, and thus the beacon.

The old idea that the universe exists in a cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches was disproven. What was freaking out one of the crew members is that this means that the universe just gets bigger and bigger and ages and ages until it's all dead. There's gonna be ghosts that hate those on the time ship.

This and the fact that everyone seems to get more mentally unstable the further they get from their own time, or possibly the faster they move through time, finally gets to the captain and he orders the ship to stop. Stopping could take days, but they slow down enough to get a look at a completely dead galaxy. It's a whole galaxy of protoplasm. It's also a black hole somehow. It's not clear. And the hidden girl who killed herself is still talking on the intercom an awful lot.

Well, the stuff the galaxy is made of seems to respond to mental energy. You can't push it around, but with just mental exertion you can move it and shape it and turn it into things. And then the ship starts to dissolve around them and everyone's subconscious starts to make their own dream world. And the captain needs them all working together in order to escape the black hole/ghost galaxy back through time. And he uses his ideas about the 7 deadly sins to reach them each, but he can't unify them unless he can figure out and escape the trap of his own sin. Then they're all really dead, but now made of ghost galaxy stuff but nobody on Earth ever need to find out if they can just mentally rebuild their ship and go back. And if they can make it back and a couple of them have a kid then the one who killed herself can be born again into that body.

It's a strange book to describe. It works better if you read it, but there's plenty of other Piers Anthony I'd recommend first. I think it probably only sold because he's already a fairly popular author and the publisher figured anything in his name would sell. You know, the kind of thinking that got Isaac Asimov to write joke books. "Ghost" seems the kind of book that an author would list as his favorite book of his own. You know, the one that is kinda weird and didn't sell well and most of his fans haven't heard of it, but he likes it.

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