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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Ship of Fools

by Richard Paul Russo

(Ace, $12.95, 370 pages, paperback; January 2001.)

In Ship of Fools, Richard Paul Russo has compressed cover scanour world into a claustrophobic microcosm. Untold generations have lived and died aboard the starship Argonos. Its historical records have long been lost, and, despite the Church's dogmatic insistence, no-one knows what the ship's mission is any more. Yet on it goes, generation after generation. The ship's society is rife with classism--oppression for most, privilege for the few. The Church, whose cathedral is the ship's centrepiece, keeps the masses in pliant submission to the status quo. Nevertheless, rebellions do occur--both in the past and in the course of this novel.

Many in the lower classes, the crew, want to colonize a new planet, to leave the ship; but the powerful need the labour of the masses to sustain their comfort and privilege. Colonization is the carrot on the stick, always just beyond reach. When the Argonos sends a search party to investigate a seemingly habitable planet, Antioch, conflicting agendas polarize dangerously. However, a string of horrific discoveries and events complicates both the status quo and rebellion.

Ship of Fools is a grab bag of science-fiction goodies: social speculation, planetary exploration, space travel, alien encounters, a generation ship, a giant and deadly derelict spaceship, the far future, machiavellian machinations, imaginative settings, ineffable mysteries, a tense mingling of horror and wonder, and much, much more. My only quibble: the ending is too drawn out. Otherwise, the storytelling is thrilling and exciting, the voice of the narrator (the novel's protagonist, Bartolomeo Aguilera, the deformed and infirm advisor to the captain) is compelling, and the characters are diverse and fascinating, although, they--as the title says and as, too often, so many of us--are a bunch of fools willingly repeating the same self-destructive mistakes over and over again.

Originally published, in slightly different form,
in The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 7 April 2001.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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