Voyage from Yesteryear
by James P. Hogan

Review by
Ron Grube

Del Rey: New York, 1982

377 pages April 2002


Voyage from Yesteryear - Del Rey cover by Darrell Sweet for James P. Hogan How do you best defeat your political and social enemies? Give them good reasons to join you willingly! It doesn't have to be hit 'em over the head propaganda, sometimes just the example will suffice. James P. Hogan does a masterful job of "convert thy enemy" in Voyage from Yesteryear. This isn't some slam-bang, faster-than-light, wishful-thinking space colony story. It's a carefully thought out and very convincing picture of a future I, personally, wouldn't mind seeing. This is a book I read when I despair of the results of current political trends. Is it ridiculous to read the same story a dozen or so times? Maybe, but if you can call up some hope for the human race, even for a short time, so what if you have memorized some of the dialogue?

Voyage from Yesteryear opens with the end of the current space era, the launch of an interstellar probe ship. No magical faster-than-light drives, just pluggin' away with what we know now. Some farsighted people see that while such a slow probe can't carry passengers, it can carry material and information to create colonists if a suitable star system is found, and robot educators to carry the colony through the early times. With freedom and technology, the colony thrives. The only problem is, after a series of wars and decimation of population, the various remaining powers on Earth decide to "rescue" the lost colony. There's a great vision of the kind of "generation" starship that could be workable, even with current technology, and an interesting account of the voyage, with entrenched politics and sociology being challenged by less-conventional thinkers:

Colman found it a relief to end up working with somebody like Sirocco. Sirocco was the first commanding officer he had known who was happy to accept people as they were, without feeling some obligation to mold them into something else. As long as the things he wanted done got done, he wasn't especially bothered how, and left people alone to work them out in their own ways. It was refreshing to be treated as competent for once — respected as someone with a brain and trusted as capable of using it ...

Voyage from Yesteryear - Baen cover by Patrick Turner for James P. Hogan The "lost" colony, being rich in resources, fusion-powered, robot-assisted, doesn't fit the mold of the Earth that the expedition left behind, and challenges the drones and conventional thinkers to a dangerous extent. The colonists don't push anyone, or even seriously try to persuade people to their way of thinking. They simply exist, and welcome anyone who accepts personal freedom and responsibility as a way of life. When I first read this book, I was reminded of Eric Frank Russell's classic short story "And Then There Were None", with a military-oriented expedition to a similar "lost colony" experiencing mass desertion of people. The hardest part of the equation, from the point of view of the entrenched, conventional-minded groups, is that the first and biggest losses are the talented, unconventional thinkers who are the earliest to recognize that they have bowed down to incompetence and politics far too long. Both Russell and Hogan see no need to actually coerce anyone into joining what amounts to rebellion against the old system, example being enough for anyone who is capable of clear thought and self-responsibility.

Before anyone gets the idea that Voyage from Yesteryear is some big political treatise, let me assure you that it's a great space adventure first, and a morals / politics lesson second. Hogan is great at this kind of thing — championing individuality, capability, responsibility — but not at the expense of a good story line. Read it if you're just a fan of "hard-science" science fiction, if you're a Libertarian or wannabe, or if you're just sick of fiction championing the lowest common denominator. Oh, and by the way, if you can find Russell's story , read it too. If you're a self-aware, self-responsible, anti-bureaucracy person, you'll love 'em both.


© 2002 Ron Grube

Del Rey cover, upper left:
by Darrell Sweet

Baen cover, middle left:
by Patrick Turner

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