A World Between - Norman Spinrad (1979)

I am continually amazed by the prescience of some science fiction novels and books. It is possible that what I should be amazed by is really the fact that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." A World Between is one of those books that, while written in 1979, could have been written about, say, the 2008 US Presidential race-thus-far. It takes on issues of sexism, political correctness, media culture and media manipulation with side-trips into hetero-sexism and inter-gender relationships, all executed with the deft touch of a master.

Set in the moderately distant future, the plot revolves around the fate of the planet Pacifica, whose role in the interstellar community is that of media producer and information broker. The Pacifican constitution mandates free access of the press and is founded on "electronic democracy." You may begin making Twilight Zone sounds in your head any time now. Into this vibrant culture, where "information wants to be free," two spaceships arrive close on each other's heels, each representing a competing ideology.

First to arrive are the technocratic Transcendental Scientists. This male dominated faction's main crime in the eyes of the Pacificans is that they restrict their advances to their own people rather than engaging in free market trading and sharing; in short, they use technology as a weapon for market trading and sharing; in short, they use technology as a weapon for political purposes.

They are followed by the Femocrats, radical feminists and lesbians in a communistic vein. The scene is set for a clash of titanic proportions. Since faster-than-light (FTL) travel does not exist, the battle will be fought for hearts and minds with propaganda and politics rather than with guns and bombs.

What follows is the struggle of our Pacifican heroes (of both genders) as they try to negotiate a middle path between two extremes. As the TS and Femocrats try to manipulate the Pacifican elections and government, both sides engage in the type of gender politics that have been so prevalent in the past year. Thirty years ago, the book must have seemed like a wild flight of imagination, today in almost reads like a documentary.

Spinrad tackles his subjects with wit and humour, as well as consumate craftsmanship. Admittedly some of the style and conceits seems a little dated, but remarkably few. Some of the characterizations are a little heavy-handed as well, but Spinrad's writing is strong enough to make this a quibble. While this is not Spinrad's best book, it is still a very good book, and the issues he addresses are amazingly timely.

Overall Grade: B+

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