First To The Stars by Rex Gordon

First To The Stars by Rex Gordon is a classic science fiction novel with ideas that would be used by others in later works.
I suppose many younger readers will find fault with chapter two, which contains some passages & ideas that may seem either politically incorrect or laughably corny to different readers. Here’s an example:

“You see it isn’t as easy as that,” I gently told her. “The reason you don’t get raped in situations like this is that the participants go home after a while. It isn’t that your virtue is triumphant but only that he would have to face the music. Or do I get you wrong? Is it just that you look on three years in a rocket with a man in quite another way?”
“I can see your aim is not to make it easy for me to think of it in any way.”

It is better in context, and not at all an indication of the quality of the rest of the novel. In fact by the end the daughter of the woman in this scene is a brilliant protagonist.
From the third chapter to about a third of the way through First To The Stars is similar to Poul Anderson’s brilliant Tau Zero, with the out-of-control spaceship approaching speeds that have relativistic effects on the crew. How the rocket headed for Mars achieves such a speed is explained rather vaguely with the author’s unconventional interpretation of relativity; my interpretation of his vague explanation is that there’s some sort of relativistic positive feedback: The faster they go, the difference in mass & time dilation allow even faster acceleration and so on — or something like that. At any rate the author’s descriptions of the views forward, aft, and abeam are better thought-out and more realistic than the stars flying by in Star Trek et al, allowing for blue-shift, red-shift, variations in density.
The next section of the novel concerns the crash and survival on an alien world, and is as interesting as most variations on that theme.
The last half of the novel is an excellent take on first. The scenes with the protagonist trying to communicate with aliens in their laboratory reminded me the scene in Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston trying to communicate with ape scientist, though these are full-fledged aliens, not apes. Again, better thought out than the typical Star Trek scene where everybody speaks English.
Most of the writing is quite good, certainly better than the near hack-writing of some of the author’s contemporaries, with some philosophy mixed in reminiscent of Heinlein. Here are a few lines:

“A man isn’t just solid matter, and the Kara people know it. He’s a temporal construction, a pattern of function and behavior that exists in the four dimensions of space-time. Neither you, when you look at a man physically and spatially,or the Kara, when they look at living things as movement in time, ever see the whole truth.” Another:
“They were afraid, and because they were afraid they looked around to see some object they could be afraid of.”

My recommendation is don’t judge a book by the second chapter.

First2Stars

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