Cons: Some references will mean more to those that read more of the series
The Bottom Line: Excellent read on its own and an outstanding addition to the series.
Escape Velocity, according to Christopher Stasheff, is the speed at which one can leave the gravitational pull of their given world, which is increased proportionally by how badly the current government wants you dead. Dar Mandra is about to find out what life looks like at that speed...he just doesnt know it yet. Stasheffs portrayal of our future society left me feeling intrigued, a bit shocked, and not just a little disturbed.
In this prequel of his Warlock in Spite of Himself series, we find mankind spread out amongst the stars, complacent in their general state of uncaring ignorance and comfortably opulent lives while our ailing democratic government spirals dramatically towards self-destruction.
We begin our tour of this future by learning the truth about our hero, Dar, who was unjustly imprisoned upon the distant planet, Wolmar...Which we just as quickly realize is not really the prison planet in dire conflict with the local inhabitants that it appears to be at first glance. Samantha Bine is a young woman from the home planet of Terra who grew disillusioned and disgusted by the rapidly degenerating government and the general indifference of the populace.
Somehow, her eye was caught by the supposed goings on here on Wolmar and she made it her business to find out just what was going on. Imagine her surprise when she finds that many of Wolmars prisoners are there unjustly, the locals are being educated not oppressed or slaughtered, and the guards are really just another faction of the developing society being guided by a brilliant psychoanalyst and Wolmars General Govenor, Shacklar, and Cholly, a famous educator hiding beneath the guise of the local barkeep. Thus, it is with honest regret that Sam informs Dar that their happy and prospering society is about to change drastically with the imminent arrival of a new governor.
Fortunately for Wolmar, Governor Bhelabher is rapidly converted. Unfortunately for Dar, he gets the dubious honor of a full pardon along with the obligation of turning in Bhelabhers resignation and informing the Executive Secretary (a.k.a. headman of Interstellar Dominion Electorates which is the current ruling government) that a political mutiny is being planned under the banner of a more efficient government. At first, Dar is pleased with the thought that he will finally get the chance to dabble in all the sources of intellectual enlightenment and self-indulgent luxuries he blithely assumes will be available on the home planet.
However, with each stepping stone closer to Terra that they set down upon, Dar becomes more confused, disillusioned, and concerned. Bureaucratic mayhem seems the only constant besides the stubborn indifference of just about everyone they meet. Even an honest opinion like, I suppose Im naive, but I thought the law was supposed to help make people equal, not uphold the one who can pay the most. is considered to be far too political and gauche a comment for average discussion.
Of course, those poised to tear down the remnants of Democracy and replace it with the far more efficient system of a Dictatorship are quite determined to keep Dar from interfering with their plans. Bhelabhers aide, Canis Destinus, proves to be their most competent agent as he follows hot upon Dars heels from Wolmar to Terra.
He throws up every stumbling block he can think of, and ultimately creates a system wide panic/witch hunt by claiming that Dar and his associates are in league with the new, insidious faction of society... Telepaths. After all, how could anyone remain truly free and independent if others out there may not only be listening in to their innermost thoughts, but controlling them as well!
On the other hand, the system-wide organization of criminals doesnt want to be left out of any potential gain. They decide that if the government is convinced that one or both of them are Telepaths, then they would be highly useful. Thus do our heroes find themselves running from BOTH sides of the law!
As time slips rapidly along, it seems as if their best allies are those that Fate seems to introduce only when they will be most unexpected. Yet without the help of Father Marco, Whitey the Wino (a.k.a. Tod Tambourin, the poet laureate of the Terran Sphere), his niece Lona, Tods eccentrically wealthy pal Horatio Bocello, and a unique Faithful Cybernetic Companion with a talent for both sensible behavior and timely rescues neither Dar nor Sam would have stood a chance with all the cards that are stacked against them.
It is obvious that this novel was written to tell the complete tale of the history preceding the lives and times of the heroes in the Warlock in Spite of Himself series. As an ardent admirer of this series, I found the superb manner in which the author wove together tendrils from the past and present highly entertaining. Yet this novel inspired thoughts and emotions in me on a much deeper level that others in this series have not and in many ways, I found this to be a far more disturbing read than one would at first deem likely.
Here, Stasheff struck the root of my own fears for our society. The casual indifference, irresponsibility, and selfishness of nearly everyone they meet, the stubborn insistence on remaining ignorant of things considered to be unpleasant, and the petulant refusals to take any actions that would better the situation of humanity at large, as well as the consequences that could evolve from such choices, are all displayed within this novel.
These are exactly the qualities that seem so prevalent today and I found myself closing this book with trembling hands and a cold feeling in the pit of my being. I am sure that the fact that I finished this novel on September 10th only increased all the negative emotions that left me feeling devastated with the terrible events of the following day. The echoes between truth and fiction still vibrate disturbingly in the back of my mind and I wonder with each new day where the choices of our society will lead us.