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brianmartin

Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Fifth Planet by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey Hoyle

Fifth Planet - Fred Hoyle

You can put this one next to 2001. It isn't as cosmically imaginative as Clarke's book, but it has a similar vibe. One hundred years in the future, a star with its own planetary system passes near Earth. Four of its five planets are gas giants, but the fifth, dubbed Achilles, is Earth-sized and evidently Earth-like. Two expeditions, one Russian, one American, set out for Achilles, where they discover endless swards of grass and long, shallow lakes. Then things get weird.

To be honest, it's all a little weird from the beginning. Written by astrophysicist Fred Hoyle and his novelist son Geoffrey Hoyle, this book doesn't read like any ordinary science fiction novel. This is a good thing: it's different and it suits the subject matter. It has the deliberateness of the scientific mind and also its leaps forward, as well as its odd digressions. In a way, its characters are digressions. They aren't as colorless as Bowman and Poole (I'm thinking of Kubrick's 2001), yet they aren't quite what one would expect in a science fiction novel, either. The astronauts, for example, are strangely laid-back, largely unmoved by the momentousness of exploring a new, living world. And then there's the hero of the story. He isn't one of the astronauts; he isn't even on the trip. And he's happy about it. This is because his wife's lover is on the trip, and he's looking forward to having her all to himself for awhile. Find me another science fiction book with a cuckold as the hero. There aren't many. I doubt that any of this was intentionally designed this way, but it all dovetails to give this book a slightly off-kilter feel that keeps it surprising -- and eerie, once the explorers begin to realize there's more to Achilles than grass and water.

The anonymous author of the book's description on Goodreads (which, by the way, I do not recommend reading, as it is replete with spoilers) said, "It's at the novel's conclusion where Fifth Planet comes into its own." I mention this less to disagree than to point out that clearly others do not share my opinion. Nevertheless, I was disappointed with the way the book ended, for a number of reasons, none of which I will go into here. That having been said, this is a fascinating novel, one you won't regret reading even if, like me, it's the first 150 pages you will remember, not the last 30.