NESFA Members' Reviews

coverThe Getaway Special

by Jerry Oltion

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Tor, 2001, 400 pp, $26.95

Here's another really fun piece of wish-fulfillment utterly without any redeeming literary value!

A certified Mad Scientist invents a hyperdrive which can be built out of spare parts and can instantaneously teleport an arbitrary spherical volume of space and all it contains into a vacuum. Its range is only limited by tidal effects – the closer you are to a planet, the shorter the jumps. It isn't limited at all by energy conservation, but it is limited by momentum conservation.

Because he's immensely rich from having invented the perfect battery, he hires space on a Space Shuttle to test his drive – in a Getaway Special shuttle experiment canister – and tests it by taking the shuttle and crew on an unanticipated jaunt.

This stirs up some trouble...

To start with, of the shuttle crew of four, one is a cardboard NASA type who disapproves of hyperdrives because they were Not Invented Here, and the other is a French agent – in one of the few realistic touches in the story, the French have become America's chief adversaries, apparently purely out of Gallic envy. Neither of the Bad Guys on the crew prevail, and the shuttle's pilot is rather taken with him and with the drive, so they head over to the ISS – the shuttle has some damage and can't land.

NASA and the US Government react with instant effectiveness (more implausibility!) to suppress the drive and arrest the Mad Scientist, so they go and "borrow" a ISS crew escape vehicle and land somewhere in Wyoming where they are immediately chased by hordes of Government Agents. Befriended by some not-quite-redneck locals, they disseminate the hyperdrive plans worldwide – in spite of instant, highly effective Government propaganda and disinformation – and set out to build a new ship out of a septic tank (a new one) and other random parts. They're helped by all the good-old-boy locals who are crusty pioneer-types with hearts of gold, huge 4-wheel drive off-road vehicles and a hearty disregard for drinking while driving laws.

They take off just ahead of the cops, having built their new ship in three days.

The nicest touch in the book is the careful thought Oltion spent defining hyperdrive specs so that it's powerful enough to allow adventuring, but not so powerful as to make the adventures meaningless. Because it can only jump into vacuum, to land on a planet, including Earth, is difficult. The hyperdrive can jump a ship to the edge of a planet's atmosphere with zero relative velocity, but the ship still has to get the rest of the way down by conventional means such as parachutes. (One advantage is that if the landing seems to be going poorly, the ship can jump back into space trivially.) At least you don't have to dispose of orbital velocity, too.

The Mad Scientist and the shuttle-pilot-now-girlfriend head off into space and immediately run into intelligent life, including STL star-traveling aliens. Meanwhile, Earth arms for war – it's unclear why, but Oltion does appear to think that the normal response of governments to unexpected peaceful events is to attack random uninvolved countries with nuclear weapons. Everyone in the book seems to be afraid that the hyperdrive will trigger a war and it nearly does, but I can't fathom why. But, in the end, following a lot of entertaining running about, everyone lives happily ever after.

The book reminded me of a more energetic versions of John Dalmas' novel In Our Hands the Stars from thirty years ago.

The plot was an absurd tissue of wishful thinking, silly politics, and coincidence. It was also a great deal of fun to read. Clear quill escapist SF.

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