Friday, 19 December 2008

The Inheritance by George Timmons

John More, a man from the mid-21st century, recovers from a spacecraft crash to find himself two thousand years in the future. The world has been through a terrible time in the interim, with wars and Dark Times as bad as anything in human history. However, it has for centuries enjoyed a settled and civilised existence, based on small communities which are self-sufficient in food and which trade for their other needs. Despite this, technology is advanced, with a comprehensive information network and high-speed trains running in vacuum tunnels.

More has difficulty settling in to his new environment and in particular understanding how the utopian society works. Everything seems too good to be true; everyone does their share of all kinds of jobs to help the community and appears to have everything they need to live in comfort without any excessive consumption. Crime and immorality seem to be virtually non-existent and, most unbelievable of all, children are quiet, polite and well-behaved! He gradually discovers that the key to this is the strong Christian faith which forms the basis of the society. The story then focuses, for much of its length, on the religious and philosophical debates in which More engages as he gradually becomes converted to their faith while being increasingly attracted to a young widow and her son. Only at the end does the drama get moving again as More is faced with the opportunity to return to his own time. His decision, and the repercussions which follow, form the conclusion.

It soon becomes obvious to the reader that The Inheritance isn't really an SFF novel; it's an argument for religious faith within a fictional shell. As such, its principal appeal is to those who are, or are interested in becoming, Christians. And it promotes not just any Christianity, but an idealistic vision of a kind of religious communism (which is, I suspect, unlikely to gain it much support among US Christians). Since I am not religious, I did not find the tale particularly appealing and skimmed over much of the long tracts of debate.

From the SFF credibility viewpoint, I have some problems with the technical base of his ideal society. How such advanced technology was developed and maintained in such a fundamentally rural society was unexplained. Mass transport systems such as trains also don't make much sense with a low and dispersed population. And while I can believe that pencils would still exist in the fifth millennium, I find it harder to believe that word processors familiar to More would still be around.

It also has weaknesses as a work of fiction. The author is fond of the omniscient viewpoint and sometimes informs the reader what different people are thinking within the same conversation. I don't care for this, as it tends to remove dramatic tension. I also found More a rather unsympathetic character, which doesn't help in getting engaged with the story. Finally, the ending was something of a disappointment; I thought that the author was building up to a classic SF twist finale, but in fact there was a strange and (to me) rather unsatisfying conclusion.

It may seem unfair for me to review this, given my own position on religion, but the publishers did send the review copy to the British Fantasy Society (who passed it to me) so I have assessed it on its merits as an SFF novel rather than a religious work.

And now for some welcome relief in these hard economic times. I have a seasonal gift for one and all: a complete e-book version of my SF novel Scales FREE!

You can find details of the book, plus reviews and zip files of two versions of the e-book (Acrobat and MS Reader) on my site HERE

I hope you enjoy it: if you do, spread the word, if you don't, please tell me what you didn't like about it!


Fred said...

What do you think? John More and Thomas More, the author of _Utopia_? Coincidence?

It sounds like a classic example of an author who lets the message dictate the story.

Anthony G Williams said...

That's an intersting idea, but if I have read 'Utopia' it was too long ago for me to remember it!

Fred said...

It's been awhile for me also, but I vaguely remember that over 90% of the text consisted of long dissertations and lectures on the system. The basic plot was that a traveller arrived, got the basic tour, got hours of lectures, and then left.

There was no story or plot.