In the late 1960’s, there was a large movement to write dystopian novels. Among these novels were Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), and Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (1967). The range of topics varied widely, but the novels tended to share a suspicion of technology and fear of government having too much control over society.
Boyd’s novel presents a highly original approach within this movement in the field. It is a highly complex first novel that exhibits multiple facets of the genre. First and foremost, it is a dystopia containing science-fiction elements of time travel, an alternate time line, and interplanetary travel. The dystopia embodies the typical elements of an oppressive state in the literary tradition of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and Ray Bradbury.
When Boyd’s novel was published, it received critical praise from authors such as Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. It did not receive any major national or international awards and faced stiff competition from significant novels of the time. Dystopian novels won many of the major awards in science fiction between the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Beginning in the late 1970’s, some monographs and several major articles praised the novel for its complexity, originality, and insights. The novel offered an early criticism of behaviorist psychology and sociology. In a reprint of the book, Boyd wrote that he began conceptualizing the novel in the late 1940’s as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California.
None of Boyd’s approximately one dozen later novels achieved the high level of thought or originality of his first attempt. Some elements of this novel manifested themselves in his later works, such as an obvious disrespect for women and a highly humorous and sometimes satirical approach. Boyd, however highly regarded for his first novel, never completely established himself as a master of the science-fiction genre. He never won a major award. The Last Starship from Earth remains his first and greatest achievement.