- Mass Market Paperback
- Publisher: Del Rey (June 12, 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345350510
- ISBN-13: 978-0345350510
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 4.5 x 7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,340,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Gift From Earth Mass Market Paperback – June 12, 1987
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At the time, it had been agreed upon that the crews of the Planck and Arthur Clarke would become the rulers of the colony. The Plateau was then divided into territories with the crew residing on Alpha Plateau and the colonists on Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Iota. Both slowboats had been refitted as additional space for the enormous Hospital constructed on Alpha Plateau. It was from the Hospital that the crew governed Mount Lookitthat. The slowboats had also been converted for use as power plants for the entire colony.
Over the course of three centuries, a caste system evolved. Descendants of the crew (the upper-class) looked at the colonists with disdain. Few colonists ever stepped foot on Alpha Plateau unless they required medical treatment--or were sentenced to death. Capital punishment on Mount Lookitthat entailed the harvesting the accused's vital organs. The rest of the body was cremated. There was simply no space for burials on Mount Lookitthat.
The organ banks quickly became an instrument of fear and allowed a dictatorship to form, as well as a resistance group called the Sons of Earth led by Harry Kane and Jayhawk Hood. For years, they had tried and failed to form a revolution against the government...until Matthew Keller entered the scene. A miner from Delta Plateau, Keller never quite understood the usual psychic ability he possessed that made people suddenly forget he was right in front of them.
When Keller is invited to a party at Jay Hood's house, he finds himself thrust into the middle of chaos when the home is raided by the special police force known as Implementation under the leadership of the ruthless Jesus Pietro Castro. Several members of the Sons of Earth are captured and taken to the Hospital to be executed. With fear triggering his mental ability, Keller manages to escape unnoticed, but finds himself hunted by Castro. Will Keller be able to rescue his friends from the Hospital and assist them in a revolution against Castro and the crew?
I found A Gift from Earth to be a fun read in a unique milieu, but awkward sentence structures and occasional clumsy wording made it seem like an early draft rather than a final, polished work. Matthew Keller's character arc was strong, and Castro was refreshingly well-developed as the antagonist with internal monologues, foibles, and fears. The supporting characters of Kane, Hood, and others were mostly two-dimensional and changed little from beginning to end.
This novel was originally serialized in three parts in early 1968 in the IF magazine. Unlike many of the serialized novels during the same time, A Gift From Earth has an excellent flow without the stopgaps that many other serializations have. There are no clear divisions between the parts, so the novel had a seamless flow throughout.
Rear cover synopsis:
"The world named Mount Lookitthat was never meant for humans--it was shrouded in lethal mists. Life only existed on one plateau, unreachable except from space. But the disastrous decision to colonize the planet could not be reversed. So the settlers survived somehow--under a ruthless dictatorship.
Mount Lookitthat was rebellion-proof.
Then fate dealt the colonists a wild card named Matthew Keller, who had a talent that neither he nor anybody else knew about.
At last the colonists had a glimmer of hope!"
Jesus Pietro Castro heads the Implementation police force of the Hospital, which isn't a center to treat the ill and injured. Rather, it's a morbid mansion of disassembled bodies for the harvesting of body parts... the Body Bank. The "Crew" of the first ships to touch down on the planet of Mount Lookitthat receive these harvesting body parts from the lowly colonists. Ranked as aristocrats/autocrats on their perched plateau of a world, they enjoy all the benefits from their society while the colonists cower under their tyranny. But like the 40-mile cliffs which circumscribe their towering plateau, there is an underground movement planning to topple the 300-year reign, ready to cast freedom down to the masses of the colonists.
Gliding through the interstellar void with ramscoop propulsion, Ramscoop Robot #143 messages the perilous colony of Mount Lookitthat listing its cargo contents, gifts from earth which provide the colonies with advanced technology. The contents are privy to the ruling Crew class, but one resourceful colonist, Polly Tournquist, is able to hide in the trees and snap photos of the gift from earth.
Though limited in membership, the resistance does have decades of meticulous planning behind their inevitable push for freedom under the organ-stealing elite. Matthew Keller isn't part of the resistance but finds himself in the middle of a raucous party thrown by the members, with many innocents scattered among them. The 21-year old virgin is eager to speak with Polly, the cute shortie with the curious earbud, only for her to become wide-eyes in mid conversation and turn away. Angered by the abrupt denial, Matthew turns his attention to the more lithe woman, who seduces him into a dark room. When the raid orchestrated by Jesus Pietro commences, Matthew is one of the few to escape the police cordon.
Matthew is soon embroiled in a manhunt, his fear of the Body Bank drives him to protect his innocence at the cost of appearing guilty. The Implementation can't find any proof of his resistance ties, but keeps the search ongoing. Matthew discovers a curious ability of his own, a sort of cloak of invisibility which renders his invisible when he is frightened. This "psychic invisibility" allows him to penetrate the Hospital, release his comrades-in-arms, and seclude themselves for the next big push in their anti-Crew agenda.
The most impressive part of A Gift From Earth is the setting: a California-sized plateau, the only inhabitable part of the planet, towering 40 miles over the molten surface, an atmosphere layered with noxious gases, the colony perched solely on this one piece of land. I said that Niven does wonders for world-building and it doesn't stop here. Like most of Niven's Known Space universe, the harvesting of body parts from criminals (even petty criminals) is wide-spread and helps keep crime down and life-expectancy high:
"A criminal's pirated body can save a dozen lives. There is no valid argument against capital punishment for any given crime; for all such argument seeks to prove that killing a man does society no good. Hence the citizen, who wants to live as long and as healthy as possible, will vote any crime into a capital crime if the organ banks are short of material." (122-123)
The colonists are under the assumption that their forefathers agreed to live under the ruling fist of the Crew when they fist landed on Mount Lookitthat. However, the secret is kept that th agreement was made under duress. Now, the Crew live like masters and the colonists are merely spare bodies waiting to be disassembled for their youthful parts: "... human beings come in two varieties: crew and colonist. [...] The Crew were masters, wise and benevolent, at least in the aggregate. The colonists were ordained to serve." (131)
Nevertheless, most Crew get on with their lives, like Matthew. The resistance is limited but presents a dichotomous picture of the female sex in the movement. There's the lithe Laney who is apt in many Crew-limited skills though a colonists herself, yet she describes herself as a type of comfort girl:
"The Sons of Earth [the resistance group] are mostly men. Sometimes they get horribly depressed. Always planning, never actually fighting, never winning when they do, and always wondering if they aren't doing what Implementation wants. They can't even brag except to each other, because not all colonists are on our side. Then, sometimes, I can make them feel like men again." (168-169)
Contrasting his is the industrious shortie, Polly Tournquist, who reconnoiters and isn't afraid to take the metaphorical bull by the horns. To see a small-packed heroine is a great relief compared to the usual sylphlike figures in most SF novels... but then again, I like short women. The rest of the Sons of Earth are forgettable.
Aside from the fantastic world-building, there's two flaws which strip this novel of two stars. I'm a big non-fan of using psychic abilities in science fiction. I find it silly and unfounded unless some technological bridge is there. So firstly, I find the non-science foundation of Matthew's "psychic invisibility" as silly. I waited for some explanation but was left high and dry with the psychic answer. Secondly and last, the entire resistance that Matthew throws up against the Crew and the Implementation is just too easy, it hardly lacks any resistance; there's no greater strife, no burning desire in Matthew can be found to propel his drive. I was left unconvinced.
I love the Known Space universe Niven has established and will most likely return to the pages of The Integral Trees (1984), Protector (1973), and all the stories including Neutron Star and Tales of Known Space (1975). A chronological reading of his Known Universe material should be called for in many years to come after I exhaust my current unread collection. It'll also be interesting to compare his early work with his more recent Building Harlequin's Moon (2005), which is also on my unread shelf.
his best work. In a gift from Earth a planet in the Tau Ceti system is
colonized by humans. Plateau boasts a California sized land mass that
rises out of the poisonous atmosphere of the world and gives it its only
living area. It is ruled by a hierarchical ruling class that demands
obedience and uses the death penalty to punish most infractions. This
serves a dual purpose, as the organs that are harvested from the so called
criminals are used to keep the aristocrats young and healthy. Something of
the same thing is going on on Earth, as seen in other Niven tales of this
period. But then comes the gift from Earth, the artificial organs that
make forcible organ donation no longer necessary. But this will upset the
applecart that Plateau is built on, and the rulers are willing to suppress
the technology in order to maintain the status quo. Another winner from
Niven, one of the best of the hard science fiction writers.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is set in the part of Niven's future history where organlegging as such, is very common.Read more