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An Oldie but a Goodie
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Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin is also science fiction with a message. In Panshin’s novel, the Ship is a (mostly) closed universe, a hollowed-out asteroid serving as home to generation after generation of humans who opted not to debark on a planet and colonize it. Most science fiction has a message or discusses issues—what it means to be human, how can man communicate with other sentients, is man the center of the universe, is it right to dominate other living beings, etc., and Rite of Passage is no exception.

Panshin’s message is that population control, management of numbers of citizens vis a vis the resources available is critical, since the Ship has a finite number of people it can support. He makes a parallel case for planets, which are large enough to lead people to believe otherwise, but which in fact have finite resources also. Therefore, he argues, planets must control population growth and ww are immoral not to do so.

His secondary issue is, who has the right to enforce what the majority says is the best action to take? Who are we to say we know the right thing to do and we will make you do it? His characters say that we’re going to have to figure that one out as we go along.

I found Panshin’s message much easier to tolerate than, say, Piper’s, because in the course of his novel, Panshin gives his reasoning for his point of view (in the mouths of his characters), and has other characters present countervailing arguments. The protagonists are young people on the cusp of adulthood and they find themselves having to develop an ethical position of their own. Along the way, we follow their debate. Maybe one reason I liked this book is my own past as a teacher of young people just learning who they are, what is their place in the universe.

In addition, Panshin can write dialogue that flows like normal language, has well-written, three-dimensional characters and has excitement and suspense which highlight the points he wants to make but are also top-notch adventure.

The end is a bit preachy, but you can see that he wants to show the shift in generations; given the year the book was written, I can understand. Our generation thought we could change the world. Given the recent elections, it’s pretty obvious that we didn’t even change ourselves.

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