By 1977, many science fiction fans had tired of the fantasy style of science fiction then popular and were eager to see a newer generation of hard sci-fi novels come upon the scene. It was thus apt timing for Del Rey to release ‘Inherit the Stars,’ the first novel by British writer James P. Hogan.

Hogan, who died in 2010, met with considerable success with ‘Inherit the Stars’ and went on to write a number of well-received books including the sequels ‘The Gentle Giants of Ganymede’ (1978), ‘Giant’s Star’ (1981), ‘Entoverse’ (1991) and ‘Mission to Minerva’ (2005).

The publisher took pains to present ‘Inherit the Stars’ as something new and progressive in science fiction. The cover features a realistic, eye-catching image of a space-suited skeletal corpse on the surface of the moon. The advertising blurb from the preeminent Isaac Asimov compares Hogan to the equally venerable Arthur C. Clarke, the then reigning king of hard core science fiction.

Set in a utopian 2027, a UN expedition on the Moon comes across the space-suited corpse of a man lodged in a small cavern just under the lunar surface. Carbon dating indicates the corpse is 50,000 years old; his equipment, unlike anything ever manufactured on Earth, and the writing in his notebook is unknown to any linguist. ‘Charlie,’ as this ancient astronaut comes to be known, clearly came to the Moon from somewhere else. But where was this ‘somewhere else,’ and what implications does Charlie have for the origin and evolution of the human race? The answers to these riddles are expertly teased out as the novel and its sequels unfold revealing surprises on an intergalactic scale spanning millions of years.

The story indeed is profound in its scope, plausibly explaining mankind’s origin and accounting for some of our baser, more aggressive instincts. All of the science elucidated is real or very nearly real and assiduously adheres to the precepts of the scientific method: Hypotheses are floated in succession only to be disproved, rejected, revised and re-evaluated. In answering the ancient question of why we are here - how we came to be - Hogan presents a grand Origin Story bringing full circle why Man, of all the species to have evolved on Earth, is the only one to have developed intelligence capable of a technological society.

‘Inherit the Stars’ is unabashed hard core science fiction. The main character is a physicist, his right-hand man an engineer. Any psychological angst generated by the narrative revolves solely around solving the grand scientific puzzle posed by the discovery of ‘Charlie’ in his crypt on the Moon. Labored revelations of personal relationships, thoughts, emotions, etc. are avoided. Conversations are pragmatic, and devoid of the conflict common in books concerned with great character development. At times the book can be didactic, although Hogan usually breaks off his lectures before the reader’s eyes can glaze over. Almost every chapter introduces yet another unfathomed revelation, with the reasoning behind these disclosures then crystalized in earnest.

‘Inherit the Stars’ does indeed borrow many of its themes from Arthur C. Clarke, particularly his most famous work, ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’. But Hogan does a masterful job with his story; he writes as well as, if not better, than Clarke and for that matter Asimov. Looking back 35 years later, it’s easy to see how the fan base, tired of the self-indulgent and fantastical sci-fi of the 70s, was ready and willing to embrace an author that so successfully gave the genre a well needed shot in the arm.

 

 

Note: Inherit the Stars is available as a free download from Baen's Free Library.