Book: A Million Open Doors by John Barnes 

Pretty good; I wish it were better. 

John Barnes
A Million Open Doors
Tor, 1992
ISBN: 0-812-51633-8
309 pages

In the universe of A Million Open Doors, humans have colonized and terraformed various planets outside of Earth's solar system. But to get to those planets, they traveled by slow spaceships and so the various human cultures haven't been in much contact recently. But a means of instantaneous interstellar teleportation called a springer has been invented. Since you need one at both ends of a jump, instructions were sent by radio and now, as the cultures of the human diaspora have received the instructions and built springers, the various cultures that had grown apart are re-integrating.

As the book begins, Giraut Leones lives on the planet Nou Occitan, which has just recently begun to receive interstellar visitors. The culture there is modeled on notions of romance, chivalry, and art from old troubadour traditions and Giraut is a dashing young swordsman and poet. On account of someone else's breach of Nou Occitan's elaborate rules of decorum, Giraut is left with the unpleasant choice of suicide or leaving for a long time.

As it happens, a friend of his is an immigrant from a planet called Caledony, and Caledony has just built its first springer. Giraut's friend, Aimeric de Sanha Marsao (born Ambrose Carruthers) has been pressed into service to return to Caledony temporarily to help the culture he was born into adjust to the reality of easy interstellar travel. Aimeric is allowed to take some people with him and Giraut volunteers.

Alas, it turns out that Caledony isn't all that nice a place. It's cold and stormy, but the people there prefer that. Or at least their religion tells them that they should. The people in that culture practice what they call "Rational Christianity". Their technology is sufficient that no one should have to do a job they don't want to, but they're made to work because they think that that's what God wants. And their idea of rationality pretty much precludes having fun. That's more than a bit of an adjustment for Giraut and, worse, there's a conservative putsch.

The details of what follows aren't particularly predictable, but the theme is. As Giraut comes to understand the culture in Caledony, he eventually finds things to admire in it and he comes to question some of his own culture's assumptions. At the same time, he teaches some folks from Caledony who aren't very well adjusted by local standards how to have fun. It's all a bit pat, alas. He even, que merce, falls in love with a local woman who's plain.

In addition, we're told that Giraut becomes a hero at home because of what he does on Caledony, but we don't get to see much how that comes about. And we hear about the denouement of the political events when it's told to Giraut after the fact because he was offstage when it all happened.

With a theme that's just a bit pat, and dramatic bits of the plot discussed rather than shown, I can't say that I liked the book more than pretty well. There's a good deal of imagination here and I wish that I liked the result a little more.

There's "say" where I think "saw" is meant (p. 176), "seldom seen a man" was probably meant as something like "seldom seen such a man" (p. 237), and "x rays" would be better as "x-rays" (p. 293). 

Posted: Mon - October 10, 2005 at 07:32   Main   Category: