The Giant Leap has the subheading ‘Mankind heads for the stars’ just in case readers are in any doubt what the eponymous giant leap is. This is a book about spaceships voyaging to other planets and stars. Crucially, though, it’s not a work of fiction, it’s a piece of speculative research looking at ‘why it will happen, how it might happen and why it is a good idea’. I don’t know about you, but simply putting will in that sentence instead of should had me hooked before you could say ‘ion drive’.
Berry runs through all the problems manned starflight holds in store, such as fuel requirements, journey times, cost (to name just a few!) and then goes on to look at the state of current, practical thought upon these. If some of his ideas are rather prosaic (compound interest on money invested before near-lightspeed journeys will pay for them upon return, very good computer games will offset the boredom of long space journeys), then Berry is to be applauded for remaining practical without disillusioning the reader.
But he also explores ideas beyond these, poking such sf perennials as wormholes, FTL travel and even time travel with a stick to see if they respond. Generally they don’t, but this reader appreciated the attempt since I at least know what the big problems are with them now.
The science and engineering in The Giant Leap is uncomplicated enough for the virgin reader but not too stolid and patronising for those with a reasonable grasp of current scientific advances. No, where Berry falls down is where I was most hoping it would perform - that earlier question of ‘why it will happen’.
Berry obviously has his own articles of political faith, but these seem to me to have left him blind to alternatives and has turned chapter three of The Giant Leap, entitled ‘The Twilight of the State’, into a promotional pamphlet for Libertarian thought.
Berry tells us that the internet and encryption will be a Gotterdammerung for government and taxes, both of which are holding ‘us’ (by which he means private enterprise) back from a future in space which is not only gloriously profitable but inevitable:
‘The proof of this thesis lies in the fact that it is already happening. Government is rapidly weakening while the power of private entrepreneurs is growing stronger.’ (p.45)
I would suggest to Mr Berry that he seek out Iain M. Banks’ ‘A Few Notes On The Culture’ on the internet, talk to some of the thousands of anti-globalisation activists, and, perhaps, contact a few disillusioned Marxists - their future was once inevitable, too…
With a little more thought, balance and insight (and a lot less polemic) The Giant Leap could have been an absolutely fascinating profile of our futures. As it is, if you skip chapter three altogether, it’s merely quite an interesting pop science book.