Title: In Our Hands, the Stars
Author: Harry Harrison
Publisher: Arrow Books
Genre: Science Fiction (Hard)
Length: A comfortable 217 pages
Rating: 5 tweaks out of 5
One characteristic of great science fiction is to leave the reader asking questions of themselves, their societies, and human nature. The fiction aspect, whether a new planet, a new technology, or some scientific advancement, merely allows the author to provide a catalyst that prompts these questions.
In Our Hands, the Stars is an example of science fiction at its best. I should mention, though, that it is hard science fiction. There are no big adventures, fire fights, or creepy aliens. The fiction aspect of the narrative is relatively small: A physicist in Israel invents a device that can allow interstellar travel, using something like an anti-gravity field. The physicist, knowing that the device can be easily weaponized, flees his own war-torn country. He goes to Denmark, where he and a colleague perfect the device and put it into use for the benefits of the entire planet, not just their own nation. The device, called the Daleth Drive, is eventually implemented for travel to and building of a base on the Moon and Mars.
The real meat of the narrative, though, is not in the new technology, but in the way that the world’s nations react to the sudden advancement of one very small, very quiet country. The Danish people fight violent incursions by spies, hide their activity through subterfuge and bait and switch tactics, and fend off political pressures from supposed “allies.” The people who are involved in the development of the device are threatened as well. The wife of the ship’s captain is an American citizen, and is pressured by her government to obtain the secrets of the Daleth Drive. Harrison explores her relationship with the captain in how he deals with this conflict, leaving me with the sense that these were real people needing to cope with a real issue.
Harrison gives us a conclusion that some may find unsatisfactory. The original creators of the Daleth make incredible sacrifices in order to protect their technology and keep it out of the wrong hands, but the sacrifice is, in the end, ineffective. I found this ending insightful and unsettling, as Harrison points out the flaws in our current security-focused society.
I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates well-described hard science fiction, slow-building tension, and who asks difficult questions of themselves and their society. This book is not for anyone who wants a light-hearted adventure with a tidy conclusion.
Harry Harrison began writing science fiction in the 1950s and is currently one of the top-selling SF authors around the world. Best known as the creator of the cosmic thief the Stainless Steel Rat, and for his Deathworld and West of Eden series, he is also the author of Make Room! Make Room! which was turned into the movie Soylent Green which starred Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. His novels have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and in 2009 he was awarded the Damon Knight SF Grand Master Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America.