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|A Slight Detour|
by Christopher Stasheff
Published by Del Rey, 1994
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Reviewed by: Greg Slade
Stasheff is better known for his fantasy works, but he has published a series set in a futuristic setting. The series is called Starship Troupers (a little hommage to Robert Heinlein, there), and tells the story of a company of out-of-work actors who decide to create a touring company to take some plays off Broadway. Way off, in fact, as they plan to be the first acting company to travel among Earth's interstellar colonies. Stasheff mixes in both comedy and suspense as the company repeatedly gets into and out of assorted scrapes. He also betrays a passion for the theatre, as his mixes in all kinds of historical trivia about the profession.
I really wanted to like this series. The characters are, for the most part, likeable, or at least interesting. The background material on the theatre is also interesting. However, Stasheff can't seem to keep from harping on one particular theme, to the point where the books are as much propaganda as literature. That theme is the evils of censorship. The characters fall into two camps, with no middle ground: the "good guys", represented by the actors, stand for unlimited freedom of speech, and with it, sexual license, smoking, drinking, and a general lifestyle which my grandmother would roundly disapprove. The "bad guys" stand for censorship, prohibition, and hypocrisy, for of course as far as these books are concerned, nobody can actually refrain from "vices", and therefore those who claim to are only leading to repression and guilt as they practise those same vices when they think nobody else is looking.
This particular volume is the most blatant in the series, as the Star Company lands on a planet to put on a show, only to discover that plays are banned as sinful, along with tobacco, pornography, and any drink stronger than grape juice. In the end, their presence sparks a revolt against the deacons who rule the colony, and their restrictive rules, because "everybody knows" that freedom and material possessions are better than security and righteousness. This is, of course, simply a case of cultural blindness: the implication is that "my way is better than your way, and if you understood my way, you'd prefer it to yours." (Or, to put it in more familiar terms, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Broadway?") The truth is that there are places where people live under rules every bit as strict as those portrayed on Citadel, and choose to stay in those groups, even when they have the option to leave. (In fact, in most of those groups, such as the Amish or Old Order Mennonites, exile is the worst punishment they can impose.) Of course, people also go the other way, leaving societies much less restrictive for the bright lights and the big city. My quarrel with Stasheff is that he strongly implies that a life of license is the only right choice for anybody to make, and that it is, in fact, more morally advanced that attempting to maintain any sort of personal morality by traditional standards. (Everybody who opposes the Star Company is strident, legalistic, and oppressive, whereas Barry Tallendar, the director of the Star Company, is the very soul of sweet reason, always able to see the other side of the argument, even if he does damn it with faint praise.) Then too, I bridle at the unrealistic picture of the "puritanical" colonists. I would have more respect for Stasheff's arguments if he showed some real understanding of the opponents he so gleefully bashes. (Oddly enough, it is not as if Stasheff is truly ignorant of Christianity. Her Majesty's Wizard shows a thorough, even sympathetic, understanding of the faith, and avoids some obvious theological traps which have snared many an author.)
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