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Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Migration" by James Hogan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official James Hogan Website
Order Migration HERE or HERE (as drm-free ebook)
Read The First Nine Chapters of Migration

INTRODUCTION: "The world of the past eventually died in the conflagration toward which it had been doggedly heading. A more fragmented and diversified order has emerged from the ruins and . technology has reappeared to a greater or lesser degree in some places and not at all in others.

Unique among them is the nation-state of Sofi, with an exceptional population that has rediscovered advanced science. However, as the old patterns that led to ruin before begin to reassert themselves across the rest of the world, a scientific-political movement within Sofi embarks on a years-long project to build a generation starship that will enable them to create their own world elsewhere.

The circumstances and thinking of future generations growing up in the totally unknown situation of a space environment cannot be known. Accordingly, the mission will include different groups of idealists, reformers, misfits, and dissidents who are not satisfied with the world-in-miniature that constitutes the original mother ship, to go out and build whatever they want. Hence, what arrives at the distant star generations hence will be a flotilla of variously run city states, frontier towns, religious monasteries, pleasure resorts, urban crushes, rural spreads, academic retreats, and who-knows what else.

The trouble began, of course, when all the old patterns that they thought they were getting away from started reappearing . . . "

In the late 70's and early 80's, James Hogan has written the Giants trilogy - later expanded by two more volumes that were good but lacked somewhat the magic of the originals - that was a big time favorite of mine 20 years or so ago when I discovered it and made me check the author's work periodically. I am not sure how well the series aged since I have not reread it in a long time, but I still remember the powerful impression the mixture of didacticism, outre ideas and the libertarian ideology of the author made on me. From the later works of the author, The Proteus Operation is an excellent time-travel/Axis winning WW2 alt-hist and despite its Velikovskian inspiration Cradle of Saturn is one of the few disaster novels I've read and enjoyed.

So when I read the blurb of "Migration" and it tempted me as a bit different from the usual James Hogan fare of recent times, I was eager to get the novel and I bought it as soon as released. And once more James Hogan showed why he is the epitome of anarcho-libertarian hard-sf with a fast and very entertaining novel that while complete in itself begs at least one sequel.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Migration" stands at about 400 pages and is divided into two parts and forty chapters. The first part consisting of eleven chapters and called Breaking Ties takes place on a future post-apocalyptic Earth, while in the second and largest part The Void we follow the inhabitants of ark-ship Aurora and its satellites some decades later and confronting the first serious crisis of the voyage. The main POV and hero of the novel is stage magician Korshak from a low tech Central Asian culture who accepts the offer of the ark builders from the advanced libertarian city state of Sofi (future San Francisco) to join them if he survives the attempt to save his princess lover from a forced marriage by what else, some clever stage magic...

In addition there are his mentor in all things high tech and later close friend, ark designer Masumichi Shikoba and the latter's robot Tek who develops quite unexpectedly an independent streak as well as a plethora of diverse and interesting secondary characters, while the starship Aurora can be considered another "main character" and a principal attraction of the novel.

Partly post-apocalyptic sf, but mostly an arkship adventure with strong libertarian hard sf overtones, Migration closes out its main thread and works well as a standalone.

ANALYSIS: As with pretty much all arkship/generation ship novels - at least in the first installment if a series - "Migration" has the "selection" part where things happen on the "original planet", the crew/population is chosen in a way or another and we see the setup of the starship, followed by the main part of the book where life and events on the ship are presented.

In the selection part, the novels of the ark sub-genre of sf usually start in an "apocalypse now" or near-future Earth in imminent danger of such, while "Migration" has a post-apocalyptic Earth with a variety of cultures centuries/millenniums from now, so it's closer to the rarer novels that have an "alien planet" starting point of the ark. And that is a big strength of the novel since those first eleven chapters which read to some extent as an adventure fantasy with sf-nal elements are excellent and we get to see Korshak in action from the first page and root for him to succeed in his desperate endeavour and get to Aurora in time for liftoff too...

The second and main part of "Migration" deals with only one relatively short period of time in the arkship's travels some 10-15 years from launch, when the first serious crisis threatens its stability and maybe even its mission at least as originally stated. I also tend to like this approach more than spreading out action over many generations or even over using the same characters but for a lifetime of events since it allows for a more unitary book and it maintains the emotional bonds with the main characters. The downside of course is the more limited scope of the novel, but "Migration" works very well both at the world building level where Aurora and its satellite worlds built in flight are lovingly described in the right amount of detail and at the plot level where the main thread of the book is quite satisfying in complexity as well as in execution.

The villains make a hilarious bunch with their subtle name "Dollarians" and the mystical symbol $ and their leaders go by titles like ArchBanker and such, though personally I thought that their ideology in the context of the book was more suited to a Green movement than to a wild capitalism one since while said ideology has its "selfishness" component, it's mostly about finite resources and conservation of such against the heroes "humanity as unlimited potential, no resource is scarce since humans can invent something else if needed" libertarian credo that is typical of most Hogan novels; but I guess today is cool to have "Dollarians" as villains so that did not bother me overtly much, especially that "Migration" is such fun.

I enjoyed Migration more than I expected when I listed it in my 2010 Anticipated Novels post, but those chapters that you can sample at the link above hooked me and the novel keeps the same tone to the end. A solid A and another book I would love to see more in its universe.



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