The Voices of Heaven

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Frederik Pohl unfolds his latest story slowly, revealing several key elements gradually. Barry di Hoa, a fuelmaster in charge of the antimatter fuel that drives spaceships, narrates the story in answer to questions presented in chapter openings; not until midway through the book does Pohl reveal the other party in this dialogue. That party turns out to be Merlin, a “lep,” one of the indigenous creatures of an Earth colony on the planet Pava. Pohl also builds di Hoa’s background story slowly, establishing the character on the earth’s moon before sending him to Pava as the result of a trick by his girlfriend’s jilted lover.

Di Hoa faces two primary problems on Pava. The first is his need for medication to control a rare psychological disorder that once almost caused him to kill his son. Because di Hoa did not bring medical records, the local doctor is unsure how to treat him. The second problem is the colony’s failure to thrive. Di Hoa devises plans to use the unusually large stock of antimatter brought to the colony, but ship captain Garold Tscharka opposes the plans. Tscharka belongs to the Millenarist sect, one of many religions thriving on Earth, the moon, and Earth colonies. The Millenarists are peculiar in their belief that all human activity is sinful and that the only way to escape sin is to commit suicide. Millenarists face a dilemma of whether to end their own sin through suicide or instead to stay alive and try to convert others to the religion, thus saving them.

Millenarists are the dominant force on Pava, and di Hoa struggles to convince them of the need to industrialize for the benefit of the colony. At first, his primary concern is to find a way to return to the moon, but as he becomes embroiled in Pava’s problems and discovers Tscharka’s plans for the colony, he decides to stay. The plot line mixes his personal problems with those of the colony, adding in development of relations between the human colonists and the native leps. The story moves quickly and believably, with the alien elements of Pava and the plot twists carefully woven into the narrative.