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Past Master

Past Master
by R.A. Lafferty
Published by Ace Books, 1968
Amazon.com: paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Suggested by: Ross Pavlac
[Past Master]

Book Rating
Rated 3 (Highly Recommended) by: nobody
Rated 2 (Recommended) by: 1 person
Rated 1 (Suggested) by: 2 people
Rated 0 (Reviewed) by: nobody
Total Votes: 3 people
Average Rating: 1.33 (Suggested)
Score: 0.40 (Reviewed)

Thomas More is brought back from the dead to save a "utopia" based upon his work that has gone awry.

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Other Comments:

Robert A. Heinlein is commonly credited with the maxim that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The truth of what he said is immediately obvious: to anybody who doesn't understand a given technology, it can seem like magic. Thus, a "sufficiently advanced technology" would seem magical, even to materialistic, technological, twentieth-century Americans such as Heinlein and his readers. However, Heinlein seems to have (unwittingly) given rise to a whole subgenre of "science fiction" books in which no attempt whatsoever is made to explain the technological underpinnings of the wonders described, nor even to draw a distinction between those wonders which have a technological basis and those which are truly magical, or just plain weird. Past Master is precisely the sort of work which one is tempted to blame on Heinlein (or at least, on a misunderstanding of Heinlein's Law.) It is a wildly imaginative (if not exactly disciplined) jumble of wonders, some technological, some apparently magical (but are they?) and some simply incomprehensible.

The premise is that one of Earth's first interstellar colonies has actually achieved the kind of utopia to which humans have been aspiring for centuries: the entire population can live in luxury and ease, and poverty and disease have been eliminated. Or at least, they would be, if people didn't insist on turing away from the "Astrobe Dream", and deliberately setting up squalid slums, rife with poverty, disease, and death. The government of Astrobe can't understand why people would choose to turn their backs on wealth and ease, and instead choose poverty and misery, but the slums are a growing blight upon the face of the planet. In desperation, they turn to the one honest man they can think of: Thomas More, dead for a thousand years, but, of course, easily recruited with the aid of time travel. More is brought forward in time, and from Earth to Astrobe, and sets out to determine what causes people to reject the "Astrobe Dream." In the course of the story, the reader learns the dark underside of the "Astrobe Dream", and comes to understand why so many people reject it, and More is put in a situation where he has to choose between giving in on an apparently minor point of principle, or being put to death. (Plus ça change...)

Christianity appears in a couple of different guises, virtually unrecognisable. More himself is not a Christian (In his words, "I believe for a while in the mornings if I wake feeling well. But my belief is almost always gone by noon." p. 69), but his fate hinges upon the issue of freedom of religion, and specifically, the freedom for religion to continue to exist, for the dark underside of the "Astrobe Dream" is that it is a totalitarian system, and the powers that be have decided that religion is incompatible with a utopian society, so the few remaining Christians are slated to die. – Greg Slade (February, 2005)

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