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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Anywhere But Here by Jerry Oltion

Anywhere But Here by Jerry Oltion. New York: Tor, 2005. ISBN: 978-0765-30619-7

What if Bubba could travel the galaxy in his pickup truck? That's the basic premise of this rollicking good yarn. An inventor has created a faster-than-light hyperdrive that anyone can build for a couple hundred bucks or so, and posted the instructions and a good navigation program on the Internet. Here's how you make your pickup truck into a spaceship:

His pickup was standard equipment for a Wisconsin native: three feet high at the running boards, with knobby off-road tires too big for the fenders, each wheel individually powered by a General Electric 150 superconducting motor modified with a bank of ultracapacitors for even more torque on startup.

Trent's had been modified a bit more than most. Besides painting the body panels a deep pearlescent red and chrome-plating practically everything else, he had replaced all the glass with half-inch Lexan, oversized and set inside the frames so no amount of pressure could blow it out, and he had sealed every seam with industrial-strength adhesive. He had added extra latches to the doors to hold them tight against the extra seals he had also installed, and he had reinvorced all the body panels with angle-iron to keep them from flexing. He's welded three chrome roll bars across the outside of the cab for extra support, incidentally giving him a sturdy anchor for the two army surplus cargo parachutes packed in separate carriers on top. In back, a homemade camper built of diamond-plate aluminum looked a little like the top half of the Lunar Module that had taken Aldrin and Armstrong to the Moon half a century before. It was sealed just as tight, and he'd tested the whole works to 30 p.s.i.—two full atmospheres of pressure—before he had trusted his and Donna's life to it.

So there you have it. Pickup truck ready for space travel! Let's go out and see the galaxy! Which Trent and Donna do. In Oltion's universe, practically every solar system has at least one earth-like planet. Trent and Donna land on more than one planet, and pop the seals, and just assume (well, almost assume) that the air will be breathable. In at least one case, if the air hadn't been OK, they'd have been dead. They'd only gotten that far by wrestling one of the tires off the truck into the cab, and expelling the air from the tire.

Through sabotage of their navigation software program (downloaded off the Internet), they end up 20,000 light years off course, with absolutely no idea where they are, or how to get back. Donna is the brains of the outfit, Trent provides the technological and engineering skills. And they do eventually get back, but not without coming perilously close to losing it all. Of course, in the real world, the world we live in, and based on what we know right now, today, there is no evidence to support the contention that earth-like planets are a dime a dozen. If Trent and Donna had had to try even three solar systems before finding a place to land, they'd have been dead.

So, while I found the science less than persuasive, it's a darn good space travel yarn, and very entertaining reading. It also contains some pointed political commentary on the direction the United States is taking right now, especially in the area of our vaunted liberty and freedom. Definitely recommended.

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