last starship from earth by john boyd

In The Last Starship From Earth from John Boyd, we join the same kind of dystopian community that served us Logan’s Run — in fact the similarities are so strong, one is obliged to find out which came first. In answering this question, John Boyd comes away second best, as Logan’s Run surfaced in 1967, and The Last Starship From Earth was published in 1968.

The character in The Last Starship From Earth is Haldane IV, a mathematician. He is fated to be the one who will step away from the restrictions of his caste-based society, and presumably find real love and real poetry amid the conformity that dominates. He develops a forbidden relationship with Helix, a poet and takes an unhealthy interest in the character of Fairweather, a famous mathematician who lived shortly before his time, and his son Fairweather II, whom he discovers led a rebellion, which was defeated.

It isn’t all Logan’s Run however, in The Last Starship From Earth, and there are plenty ghosts of the 20th century lurking, certainly in the show trials and the mass media described. Weirdest of all is the fate of Jesus Christ in this world, and it is an ambitious portrayal that is muddied in places, but overall strong. In the world of The Last Starship From Earth, Jesus was an agitator who was not crucified, but who established a theocracy — along with his recruited Roman army — and one which lasted until the 20th century. This is indeed the kind of novel many would like to write, and even more would like to read, but given that it intends to portray this realistically, this background information is not of great consequence — it simply IS.

In this world, Jesus Christ became a revolutionary agitator and was never subjected to crucifixion. He assembled an army to overthrow the Roman Empire, and established a theocracy that has lasted until the twentieth century. He was killed by a crossbow while entering Rome, so the crossbow becomes a religious symbol similar to the cross in our time-line.

Some readers, writers, critics and literary busybodies place The Last Starship from earth the literate tradition of Huxley, Orwell, and Bradbury, but I’m not sure that it is a work which has that extraordinary impact. Having said that The Last Starship From Earth has greater appeal to the science fiction purists, as it doesn’t wear such pretensions on its sleeve.  That is to say, this is more of a high point for readers who work their way through mounds of science fiction, rather than another stop on the tour of dystopian literary fiction.