Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: Furthest by Suzette Haden Elgin

Synopsis: Coyote Jones, agent for the Tri-Galactic Intelligence Service, had been sent to the plant to unimaginably distant from the rest of the Federation that it bore the descriptive name Furthest. His mission: to find out why the total body of data about Furthest shoes the world’s inhabitants to be absolutely average down to the last decimal place. That data had to be false. Jones was permitted to live on the planet, but the natives were so wary of him that he could uncover nothing – until he chanced into a personal crises faced by his young Furthester assistant. The boy’s sister had been sentenced to Erasure, and he wanted Coyote Jones to take the fugitive girl in and hide her. Against his judgment, Jones agreed, and thereby became a criminal on a world he didn’t understand But suddenly the answers began to come, and he found that his planet named Furthest held more strangeness than he could ever have imagined. (from the back of the book)

Review: This book is notably dated, being published in 1971, and while that occasionally detracts from the story, over all, it’s mostly a solid plot with plausible characters. Elgin explores the idea that a people so isolated from other cultures can eventually live and breathe something as truth that is a lie. The people of Furthest have no idea what the outside galaxy is like, and believe only what the original colonist to their planet believes – something that hasn’t been true for 1,000 years!
The novel is short, and I think the plot would have benefits from expansions. Several times, major events happen in a few paragraphs, or major character growth in a few sentences. For example, Coyote Jones persuades another character to reverse a lifetime of indoctrination in just a few sentences, which is unrealistic to me. I would rather have events like this take place over a chapter at least.
 Coyote Jones is a clich├ęd hero, although fits that classic Sci-Fi stereotypes from the late 60s / early 70s. A spy who works under the guise of a being a folk singer, he is a ladies’ man and a telepath. He’s also a failed member of a Maklunites, a religious group defined by living together, sharing all things in common, and having only open sexual relationships. Essentially, a hippie commune.  Not surprising given this was written back when people still thought communes and free love was a viable social system. This is a fine example of classic 70s Sci-Fi, and worth reading if you find a copy. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

Year Published: 1971
Date Finished: 1-2-2015
Pages: 191

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