RogerBW's Blog

The Getaway Special, Jerry Oltion 22 January 2015

2001 SF, expansion of 1985 short story. A scientist invents a hyperspace drive that's easy to build and use, and tells the world. Things don't go as smoothly as he expects.

I have dim but positive memories of the original short story, but I was quite a different person then. So, I think, was Oltion: there's lots of the usual distaste and distrust for anything to do with governments that I associate with Baen authors (though the story came out in Analog and the book was published by Tor), but plenty of the doomsaying by pro-government opponents of the hero turns out in this extended version to be entirely valid. Having debate with anything other than strawmen is a sadly unexpected, but quite effective, move. Giving cheap access to space to all of humanity would be a hugely disruptive effect: which may be obvious, but all too many writers with libertarian tendencies shrug their shoulders and say "ah, well, rugged individualists will cope". The eventual resolution to a variety of problems is a surprisingly grown-up one.

The story progresses in several distinct phases: the initial experiments on board a space shuttle, the return to Earth and attempts to build a usable spacecraft while hiding from government agents angry at the widespread dissemination of instructions for building a hyperdrive, initial exploration, a longer exploration sequence, and the (very) early stages of an interstellar alliance. There are plenty of rivets for people who like that sort of thing, mostly practical explorations of how to build and equip a serviceable spacecraft on a micro-budget given the technical constraints of the hyperdrive.

The characters, frankly, aren't up to much; Dr Allen Meisner and shuttle pilot Judy Gallagher have some consistency about them, but never really develop much as people, and that's even more true of the other humans. The aliens are somewhat more interesting, but again fairly slight. The assumption that spreading humans out across the galaxy is a good thing is almost entirely unquestioned.

But it's "almost". And for me that, along with the genuine arguments rather than working to a political orthodoxy, makes the book distinctly more complex and rewarding than one might have expected.

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Series: Getaway | Next in series: Anywhere but Here

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