The Plot

John Boyd’s first novel, The Last Starship from Earth, depicts the story of Haldane IV, a brilliant mathematician at Berkeley who has grown up within the confines of a rigidly separated, genetically controlled caste system under religious rule. He meets Helix, a student of poetry, and falls utterly in love with her. Because they belong to two different castes, the relationship is forbidden by the State. When they are caught, they face a possible punishment of being sent to the ice-age planet of Hell.

In this negative vision of Earth, society is broken into categories of nonprofessionals (prols) and professionals, then further into more detailed subject classes, the three most powerful being the departments of sociology, psychology, and mathematics. In meeting Helix, Hal-dane IV becomes interested not only in this highly unusual woman but also generally in the field of poetry. His subsequent obsession with the texts of classical poets (William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and John Milton) exposes his mind to new thoughts completely foreign to his mathematical background. Haldane IV and Helix meet secretly on a weekly basis and explore the long-hidden poems of the brilliant Fairweather I, designer of the electronic pope and creator of the possibility of space travel. They ultimately reach disturbing conclusions about this State hero and begin to question the wisdom of the State.

Haldane’s father dies, presumably as a result of the...

(The entire section is 567 words.)