Volume 25, Number 01, Fall, 2007

The Star Sailors

By Gary Bennett

Authors Choice Press, 2005
ISBN 0595355404, $15.95
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
October 2007

In Gary Bennett's recently reprinted 1981 novel, The Star Sailors, the idea of space exploration is intimately tied with the idea of individual liberty. This implies that those who believe liberty is at odds with the greater good of the community therefore seek to limit exploration. Both views run in opposition throughout the novel, and each side is argued passionately by several characters.

In Bennett’s imagined future, mankind initially extended far beyond Earth, seeding planets outside the solar system as well as scattered space stations. Then, certain factions of society swung the pendulum the other way. Humankind now lives within an imposed boundary, under the view that time now must be taken to consolidate and secure the areas into which humans reach.

Much of Bennett’s vision strongly resembles Star Trek; there’s a federation, tractor beams, replicator-like food dispensers, and devices that beam people through space. And yet the political environment is flipped, a sort of anti-Star Trek, as space ships and star sailors no longer boldly go anywhere, and use of weapons is prohibited, even when critical to human survival.

When a small crew is assembled to take a ship beyond the boundary, its mission remains shrouded in secrecy even from the crew until the vessel is underway. Of the four, only the captain knows the true mission. Two crewmen accept, even embrace, the opportunity to explore, but one man, a true devotee of the Syncretists, who practise collectivism in all aspects, strongly opposes the mission. Nothing convinces him otherwise, and he remains an example of someone whose belief system defies reality. Yet all must cooperate to succeed, as they face considerable dangers once they reach the forbidden system.

While most of the debates and actions play out on individual levels, the implications reach far deeper, and what they find certainly will change their very society and prevailing philosophy should they manage to survive and return home. Bennett intersperses white hot debate sessions with thrilling action and strong science.

The Star Sailors raises eternal questions. If liberty and exploration go hand in hand, does that then mean that those people who seek control, regardless of their motivations, fear any individual action? Will collectivist societies by their very nature create and impose borders, real or imagined, in order to control and maintain their world view? Bennett certainly seems to believe this to be the case, and makes strong and compelling arguments in a fictional setting that in order to survive and remain human, a society cannot hide behind the excuse of consolidating what they have won, but must forever be open to new worlds and ideas, or something else will emerge to sweep away those who simply sit there.

In recent years Print on Demand books has brought back into print some great midlist novels long since relagated to used-book stores. Readers now can rediscover Gary Bennett’s 1982 Prometheus Award nominee, The Star Sailors, originally published as a St. Martin’s press hardcover, through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Laissez Faire Books.

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