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Seven Steps to the Sun

Seven Steps to the Sun by Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey HoyleSeven Steps to the Sun front
Fawcett Crest Books, 1970
Price I paid: 75¢

The last thing Mike Jerome remembered seeing was the taxi coming straight for him….

That was in 1969.

When Mike recovered he was in one piece, but nothing else seemed to be.

Everything had changed. The buildings were different. The cars. The people.

Mike could not understand it. Suddenly he was caught up in something beyond his control. He was lost and no one he knew was around to help.

Yes, everything had changed.

Even the year.

It was now 1979.

So first off I need to share the fact that one of the authors of this book, specifically Fred Hoyle, is in fact that Fred Hoyle. British astronomer. Rejector of the idea that life developed on Earth on its own, yet a staunch and outspoken atheist. Coiner of the term Big Bang.

He actually coined the term to deride the theory but the name caught on. Hoyle pushed for a steady state model of the universe.

He also argued that viruses came from outer space on comets, among which were the AIDS virus.

Certainly a controversial figure in the field of astronomy, to say the least. He also wrote science fiction such as this pile of crappy crap I forced myself to read. He often wrote with the help of his son, Geoffrey, and I’d be interested to know how the division of labor worked. How much blame do I put on the shoulders of a famous yet somewhat kooky astronomer?

This book was just awful, and that’s a real shame. I generally really enjoy reading predictions of the future that were written at some point in the past. I do a lot of books that take place in 1999 or thereabouts, but those are more fiction than actual prediction. I thought that surely this book would be more inspired by actual predictions of what might happen a decade from when it was written. I love seeing what people get wrong, but I love even more seeing what they get eerily right. This book had a lot more of the former where it actually had anything.

Mike Jerome is a writer living in London. At the start of the book he’s working on writing for television, but his friend Pete thinks he needs to take a break and maybe work on a novel or something. Pete is a jazz musician and he just kind of floats along in life, finding success and fun wherever he puts himself. Mike envies this quality about Pete but nonetheless feels that he just can’t stop working. Pete finally persuades him to have a massage and Mike agrees. The (very attractive) masseuse makes some small talk with him, finds out that he’s a writer, and tells him to talk to a friend of hers, a scientist named Professor Smitt, who has an idea for a science fiction series that Mike might want to hear. In an amusing reversal of how writers actually think and work, Mike agrees and decides to talk to Smitt.

Smitt describes a scenario where a man might be thrown into the future against his will. The series would detail the downfall of civilization over time with emphasis on what things in the present are causing this downfall. Mike gets really fired up over this idea, thinking it’s the best thing ever, and agrees to hammer out a spec script and give it to a producer.

Not only is this a stupid idea for a television series, it is also THE PLOT OF THIS BOOK.

See, what happens is on his way home, and this is about twenty pages into the novel at this point, Mike gets hit by a cab and awakens in a strange hospital room. The doctor tells him that he’s suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and gives him a shot to help alleviate the symptoms. Mike is understandably confused, because carbon monoxide poisoning is not usually one of the side effects of being hit by a cab in the middle of the street. The reader, of course, knows that Mike is now in the future, but he doesn’t. There is, however, some discussion of what this future is like. Namely, we find out that medicine is super cheap thanks to SCIENCE but doctors still charge rather large fees for their time and work.

I guess that prediction is about half right.

A standard-issue newspaper scan tells Mike that he is now in the crazy far future year of 1979. He tries to go back to his apartment but finds it inhabited by someone else (as is usual in these scenarios), so he sets out to find Pete the jazz musician to see if he can’t figure out what’s going on.

Pete is where he’s always been, although apparently he’s hit it big in the past ten years. He explains that Mike disappeared ten years ago and that there was a bunch of legal trouble about it and that Pete was the chief suspect, mainly on the grounds that he’s black.

Wait, Pete’s black? That wasn’t brought up before. Was I supposed to have assumed he was because he’s a jazz musician? That’s racist, book.

Okay, so the back of the book seemed like it was saying to me that this was a novel about a man who got catapulted ten years into the future and had to figure out what to do with himself, right? I think that was a reasonable expectation based on that text. I know that I should know better by now, but bear with me. Surely a part of the plot that basic would be reported correctly, right?

NOPE

Mike is in 1979 for all of about fifteen pages when he gets slung into the future AGAIN.

It is now 1989 and things are getting even wackier. Cities have become decentralized and people tend to live and work in small communities where great cities once were. Traffic is now almost a thing of the past because people don’t tend to travel very far to get where they need to go. It’s kind of like the future of Judge Dredd, I guess. Overpopulation is the chief concern of the day, and food is becoming a bit scarce. The individual is now downplayed in favor of the communal good, and all over the world national governments have given up a lot of their power to the heads of the smaller communities.

Mike has a run-in with the law, since the computer banks don’t have any trace of him (from national IDs and whatnot) and he’s supposed to have been dead for twenty years anyway. He does find out that on the day he time jumped the second time his friend Pete died.

This is where the book really lost me. Already I felt like the dialogue was stupid and the motivations of our main character were really off. But it’s at this point that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Mike decides that no, Pete is not dead and he’s going to find him. So that’s his goal for the rest of the book.

TIME JUMP

After 1989 the book just doesn’t even bother to tell us when Mike is anymore. Also, after this one it turns out that he’s in New York for some reason? Previously he was in London, you see, because the Hoyles are English. Now, boom, New York. The skyscrapers are impossibly high and there’s even a passing reference to the Empire State Building being torn down because it was being dwarfed by all the other buildings, mostly apartment complexes and so forth. Mike meets a man who drives a helicopter like everyone else in this future. The guy takes Mike in for a bit and gives him some exposition about what’s going on this year. Mike thanks him for the hospitality and then sets out on a search for Pete with only inane hunches to guide him.

I’m serious, he sets out all over the world at this point, visiting the ruins of LA and finally heading over to Australia, all because he thinks things like “I remember a conversation I had with Pete once where he stated he always wanted to play a particular nightclub in LA. I bet he’s there!” No thought to the fact that Pete’s, you know, probably dead, or doesn’t remember that conversation, or was just thinking out loud with no seriousness, or stopped being a jazz musician, or that the night club isn’t there anymore. You know, any one of a million things that can happen over the course of thirty years or so.

I was going on the assumption that this third time jump put him in 1999, because the other time jumps had been ten years, you see. I was wrong.

After meandering about in the LA ruins for a while, Mike finds a newspaper, because it’s always a damn newspaper, that gives him and us some clue of when he is. It’s a very old newspaper, mind you, so we don’t get an exact date or really much of any information from it that would be useful. The paper is dated 2005 and there’s some stuff in it about the overpopulation crisis OF COURSE

So half-remembering a conversation from at least thirty-five years ago, Mike heads to Australia. It’s nice. He chills with some military guys and meets some other guy and he hears that a guy named Pete is playing music at military bases and so Mike freaks out and just has to get there and meet him. Instead of doing that he borrows some kind of plane and realizes a little too late that he doesn’t know how to fly it, so he crashes into the ocean. It’s possible there was a time jump here. The book is (possibly intentionally) vague on that matter.

Either way, Mike is now in Italy and finds out that the whole world has gone straight down the futuristic waste disposal unit. With still no clue what year it is, it seems that anarchy has broken out across the globe because of food shortages. Pretty much every government has fallen and it’s every man for himself. Mike meets some dudes and evades some other dudes when, without a trace of a reason, he time jumps again.

He wakes up back in good old 1969 with Pete standing next to him in the hospital. It seems that Mike got hit by a cab and broke his leg and hurt his head OH MY GOD ARE YOU TELLING ME IT WAS ALL A DREAM

OF ALL THE

TRITE

CLICHE

TERRIBLE

AWFUL

WORST

THINGS

YOU

CAN

MAKE A PLOT FROM

YOU CHOSE THAT

I HATE YOU BOOK

And it gets worse!

Remember how I said that this book was essentially the plot of the TV pilot that Mike and Professor Smitt were talking about? Well, immediately upon waking up Mike gets a typewriter and just jots down everything he remembers in script form and decides to pitch it to the network.

He decides to name the series Seven Steps to the Sun.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Incidentally, where was Professor Smitt through all of this? Apart from one corner-of-the-eye glimpse in 1979 that Mike passed off as a hallucination, he was never even mentioned again until this part of the book. Instead of looking for a jazz singer that everybody told me was dead, I think I’d go looking for a scientist. You know, if I were TRAPPED IN A PLOT HE JUST DESCRIBED TO ME

Here’s the thing. Last few pages of the book. Mike is looking for Professor Smitt to tell him that the series is go and he’ll be getting a cut of the moneys. But Mike can’t find him! There’s no trace of him anywhere, even in the place where Mike met him before?

Is this some kind of new mystery to unravel? Will it turn out that all this was some kind of science experiment from Professor Smitt, or some phenomenon that he knew was going on?

Apparently not.

The last page of the book is as follows: Mike gets in a cab. The cabbie is driving erratically. Mike leans forward to say to slow down or something, and the cabbie is in fact Professor Smitt.

THE END

About twenty minutes after I finished this book the cops showed up and said the neighbors complained of a domestic disturbance. I kindly told them it was a misunderstanding and then summarized the book for them.

One of the officers was kind enough to put a bullet in the book for me.

None of that actually happened but I kind of wish it had.

What the crap did I just read? I wasn’t really expecting much of a plot, to be honest. I thought it would be a thinly disguised excuse for a scientist to detail some of the predictions he had about the future. In fact, that’s what I was hoping for. That might actually have been somewhat interesting or coherent. What it was instead was a rambling, completely disconnected “plot” that didn’t even describe any of the events that took place in the future it takes place in. And then it all turned out to be a dream that was rewritten into a television show.

And what’s with that ending? We get like one page of mystery and then a final line that’s, I guess, supposed to be another mystery? What is up with Professor Smitt? The problem is that a mystery is supposed to make you want to know what happened, and absolutely nothing about this book had me invested in solving anything. I was along for the ride because I wanted to see if 1979 from the viewpoint of 1969 would have flying cars, a Beatles reunion, and rockets to the outer planets. I think we got flying cars in the 1989 sequence, but nothing else happened.

I suppose there was one predictive thread in the book. The whole degradation of the future seemed to hinge on overpopulation for one thing, but also there was a line of reasoning about anti-science. See, people basically gave up on science because, in their minds, it’s what got them into this mess in the first place. Cheap medicines and medical treatments really fed into the overpopulation problem, and so scientists got the blame. See, I can understand that logic in a way. And there’s also commentary about how politicians were useless in that regard. They just followed the howls of the public, hoping to get reelected, and cut funding to scientific institutions and research labs and universities and so on. And that’s actually a pretty good prediction of what has actually happened since the book was published, vaguely anyway.

The problem is that that line of reasoning took such a backseat to the absolute pointlessness of the rest of the book. If that problem had been actually addressed as the point of the novel, I think it would actually have been pretty good. I wouldn’t actually mind a preachy scientist novel about how we need to listen to the scientists and how politicians are stupid. It might not be good, but at least I’d agree with it in principle. It’d basically be a Carl Sagan book, and that’s more than okay with me.

But no. I got book that didn’t have anything to say about anything and refused to admit that fact.


7 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I tried to read Hoyle’s Ossian’s RIde (1959) a while back. I picked it up because of the Powers cover — it was awful….

    Like

  2. Joe Halder says:

    Can you give me your recommendations as to what you consider the best so far. Of all the books you have reviewed which ones stand out for you, as really good reads? I love this genre and I am always looking for some good ones. Thanks

    Like

  3. joe halder says:

    Yeah, I get that you review the cheesy, pulp, lower grade Sci Fi, but there are a view that must have left an impression. In a similar vein, look at Sven Hassel who wrote really pulpy, trash, military fiction, in the 1970’s those books were great. Also, how can I attach a pic of book cover here, if I wanted to.

    Like

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