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Bookworm 2012: Aztecs in Space

Posted on | January 9, 2013 | No Comments

Harry Harrison - Captive UniverseWith Captive Universe Harry Harrison proved that even when you squish together two awesome concepts you can still end up with a mediocre novel that aged like an avocado – suddenly and terribly.

Exploring the generation ship trope, when I stumbled upon the synopsis it seemed like a surefire hit – interstellar Aztec colonists on a multigeneration ark. As these stories tend to go, one of them starts to discover that not all is right with the “world”, and goes off exploring, eventually stumbling onto the true nature of their enclosed little valley.

Intriguingly, much like with Aldiss’ Non-Stop, the writing seems to hold water far better during the first part of this rather short novel – so long as Harrison is describing the primitive, gods-fearing, oppressive Aztec society. As soon as our hero cracks the walls and starts exploring the high-tech environment, cracks appear in the writing as well, both stylistically and conceptually. It did not feel in the least as a 1969 novel right up to the point our hero meets the first non-Aztec. Then, suddenly, it’s like reading ancient pulp, with monocultures and dubious quasi-scientific explanations for rather clunky bio-social phenomena, dialogues that seem stilted and an almost steampunk-level clash between the level of technology described in the book and the level of technology required to construct such a starship. Repeating the Non-Stop experience, Captive Universe put me off generation ship stories for a while, and despite the cool idea, I can’t rightly recommend it to anyone not out to read it merely as a historical curiosity.

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  • Goodreads

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