"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Getaway Special: An idea whose time has come (book review)

Here's one I really loved. Years later I still chuckle at the thought of it. What reminded me of this great science fictional fantasy by Jerry Oltion were several articles and documentaries I've seen recently about alternative energies not yet developed. Are they real? Hoaxes? If they are real, why aren't they spreading like wildfire? In a collapsing economy, wouldn't cheap, easy alternatives naturally supplant the existing failing infrastructure, as people took matters into their own hands? and here are some more ideas). Well, first, before much money can be put into development, these seemingly quirky discoveries need to be tested and validated, and efficient means of production figured out. And if they are genuinely promising, they have to survive the efforts of powerful interests to make them disappear.

I'm inclined to think that the universe is full of undiscovered sources of cheap, easy, clean energy and the only things holding us back from using them are (1) an entrenched research establishment that's just not structured to go outside the lines of how they usually conduct research--not just the present intellectual but also the bureaucratic parameters--and so fails to bridge the gap between scientific method and the inventors who stumble upon things but can't explain them, and (2) probably even more than that, the thugs owning the currently existing energy  infrastructure, who have demonstrated over and over that they will stop at nothing to hold onto their empire (can anyone say "Bush"? "Carbon Club"?).

I mean, building a whole global civilization based on a limited supply of fossil combustibles? Absurd! What were the chances THAT would have happened? But it did. History is full of unexpected and unlikely twists, and the future will be too, no doubt. Just as we don't really have to be so limited in our energy choices, it's also possible we don't have to be limited to this planet. (It can be argued that we should be quarantined here until we get our act together... but then, maybe going off-planet would be the very thing to force the species to grow up. Why not? Certainly the planet would be better off without us...)

Which brings me to this book about a parallel kind of current limitation: what if a means of cheap, easy space travel were found? Heck, why not?! (This review is adapted from a short one I wrote when the book came out.)

Oltion, Jerry. The Getaway Special (2001)

Allen Meisner's business card identifies him as a member of INSANE (the International Network of Scientists Against Nuclear Extermination). He is worried.

Reasoning that the only hope for survival in a nuclear-menaced world is to get out of here, he's been theorizing about a cheap, almost instantaneous mode of faster-than-light travel. Fortunately he's rich, so he can afford to buy space aboard the shuttle Discovery -- two small "getaway special" canisters -- in order to test his idea. And his experimental "hyperdrive" proves wildly successful (if a bit dicey to control, at first).

In the true spirit of file-sharing, he feels that this new knowledge rightly belongs to everyone and, knowing that if he doesn't do something fast it will be buried by the Powers that Be and never see the light of day, Meisner broadcasts the formula on the Net. And soon the whole world knows how to go off-planet in any vehicle that can be made airtight for a few hours. Adventurous, tinkering humans lose no time in modifying their RVs and lighting out for the territory.

Judy Gallagher, a pilot on the fateful shuttle flight, is soon in cahoots with Meisner, racing against time to escape from Earthly powers desperate to control the new technology. The two build a ship (a customized septic tank) and head for Alpha Centauri--but in just one of many delicious twists, they find they aren't the first to get there. This is as much fun as science fiction can be. It's rich in the classic SF sense of wonder and in the most contemporary questions, and it carries the reader aloft with a wild and irresistible humor.

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Well, I guess I liked that book! Time to read it again; with nuclear reactors doing the inevitable again, this time in Japan but sharing the grief all over the world by now, I'm feeling more in tune than ever with the good scientist Meisner and his INSANE organization. We're in it together -- and I wouldn't mind getting away myself just now. And I see there's a sequel - Anywhere But Here - which I will now find and read ASAP. His website says his favorite novel is Paradise Passed, which I missed somehow and will catch up on too. I did review Abandon in Place, which preceded The Getaway Special, and liked that very much; will add that review when I can find it. Glad to see there is more Oltion to read. And I haven't even started on his shorter fiction. He invented a new kind of telescope, the Trackball, which looks like the old Edmunds wide field one I used to have, but that's just superficial as this is an equatorial mount - but it tracks so you don't have to keep adjusting it!; in Meisner fashion, he put it in the public domain. Wouldn't you know, he's an Oregonian.

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