Anything can happen—murder, deep-space sabotage, and lots
and lots of sex—aboard the 23rd-century interplanetary luxury liner The
Ecstasy during its Earth-to-Saturn cruise.
John’s hefty novel
may remind some, in a weird warp-speed way, of the kitsch-TV classic The
Love Boat, even though the author, in a “Special Thanks” section, credits
such wide-ranging influences as Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Douglas Adams and
Tom Robbins (plus some PC-game designers). The setting is 2258 A.D., as the
Dutch-registered luxury cruise spaceship Ecstasy embarks on an
Earth-to-Saturn run with 5,000 tourists and crew members (including an onboard
defense force). The great ship accommodates manifold interests in its social
clubs and amusement/shopping arcades. But sex seems paramount—whether it’s
stalwart Capt. Phil Sherwood’s wife’s ongoing fling with an alien or
unchaperoned teens determined to copulate in every corner of the craft (the
ship also boasts a legendary in-house prostitute, Zena). Intrigue, drama and
mystery come in varied doses: the assassination of a Swedish VIP, obsessed
stalkers, a minor cancer scare for a female passenger (the latter easily solved
by future medicine). But the main...thrust...is a conspiratorial computer
program (called a “sub-routine”) deep within the ship’s operating system that
sends The Ecstasy on a seemingly uncontrollable, hypervelocity
journey into the unknown, far past Pluto. The program is modeled after an
orgasm. Yes it is. The work’s length, scope and detail are impressive,
even when some parts seem like unwelcome stowaways (e.g., episodes of occult
magic include a mystic, materializing Templar Knight). And these 23rd-century
folk seem unusually stuck in the pop culture of the 20th-century’s baby
boomers; references include cable TV’s Ancient Aliens, traveling Route
66, Barry White as an aphrodisiac, and authors Stephen King and L. Ron Hubbard.
On that Dianetical note, a loathsome character specified as a critic of
Scientology gets a summary execution verdict and is shoved out of the
airlock. A lengthy epilogue/analysis dominates the last 100 pages, pondering
the age of consent and incest and blaming much of past society’s ills on psychiatry.
“Julie, your Cruise Director” mates with Barbarella, in more ways than one.