Piers Anthony is of course a staple in the science fiction community of the 1980s. Tons of books have come out with his name on it, some great (Bio of a Space Tyrant(1)) some good (Prostho Plus(2)) and as is wont to happen occasionally some not either (Race Against Time(3)). Ghost is an example of this latter version not either. In this novel, Anthony mixes in supernatural, pseudo-science-fiction and Freudian psychology. Initially at the outset I thought Id verily enjoy it as it was by an author I had enjoyed thoroughly in the past in some cases, a man highly respected in the sci-fi writers community and it was clear that the novel dealt with one of my favorite concepts time travel.
One of the past novels of Piers that I read was Prostho Plus, which I recall as being whimsical and not very hard-science (fact based) in its make-up. But it was fun to read. Ghost is also whimsical, albeit in a different sort of way as the novel really does attempt to delve into hard-science but does so poorly at best. The idea behind the novel is that the breakthrough of the time drive allows the future of mankind to create the ships Meg I and Meg II. These ships are capable of engaging said time drive and traveling backwards in time and their mission is to seek and find unlimited or near-unlimited clean energy sources for mans future. A tough prospect indeed.
We join the crew of one of these ships who have an alternate mission to discover what happened to the first time ship which has disappeared. Anthonys very interesting when he connects how time travel can pinpoint and return to its own time, and this part of the theory I enjoyed immensely. Because it is impossible to truly reorient oneself against the current universe where the ships leave behind their friends, the space farers employ a psychic whos job is to keep the beacon lit. The beacon is the ships only means of finding and reorienting back to current time to return from missions. I really liked that idea but it falls apart when Anthony starts inserting Freudian psychology into the mix.
The beacon, being a psychic connection to current time to plan their return, is affected by all the psychosis of the crew members. Any instability at all in any mind within the vicinity of the ships beacon (and therefore throughout the ship) causes it to malfunction creating static in the connection, if you will. Once the ship leaves time and the novel takes off on the mission which you are to follow along as a reader, just about all of the book is then dedicated to Captain Shetlands attempts at re-stabilizing his crew psychologically. Suddenly your delved into not a space drama or science fiction novel, but a boring and dragging search into peoples psyches that becomes tedious at best. The only upside to this long divulge is that Anthony was indeed forced to create realistic folks that are surely a far cry from the cardboard cut-outs of some novelists characters.
If you remember Kings The Langoliers the concept of time as a continual multi-dimensional flow is not being used here. Instead the idea is that behind time is useless, now-dead matter and energy ghost things. A ghost universe, perhaps, as is attempted in explanation by Piers Anthony here. Kings version of this in The Langoliers was phenomenally displayed with the used-up idea Im talking about, even if he put forth silly looking munchy big-teethed thingies in it. Piers shows us the same thing when you go back in time you find a universe that is dated, dead and filled with nothing but this ghost substance. This substance is the proverbial primordial ooze, and can be fashioned, used to create and made to do things by sheer thought from intellectual minds. The crew becomes god-like in their fashion of it, but then get lost in their own ooziness as the ship gets stuck in a gravitational well that mires the crew in their own dream-like states. Piers throws more psychology at us the seven deadly sins for example, using the game of chess as a backdrop and the ending of the novel was much like what Herman Hesses Steppenwolf(4) went through in his ending but done poorly, shabbily and predictably. Once again Captain Shetland must go off and re-stabilize his crews heads.
I didnt like Ghost at all. Piers took some fabulous concepts, mired it in Freudian psychology, unrealistic hard-science and drudged along boringly. It was a waste of my time. Im glad its over. The only two things I can say nice about this novel was the aforementioned idea of linking time travelers psychically with the beacon, and I also enjoyed Anthonys recreated waste-not culture of the Earth. But the former is debilitated by the whole psychological-crew thing and the latter is only the first short portion of the book before Shetland is immediately called back to take over the time ship.
Ghost by Piers Anthony
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
Copyright © 1986 by Piers Anthony
1 Off the Shelf
2 Off the Shelf column, Legends #116.
3 Off the Shelf column, Legends #117.
4 Off the Shelf column, Legends #131.