From Megan Simpson, reader and friend.
To coincide with my inclusion of the “Open Commentary” piece, here’s my review of Starship Earth.
Starship Earth (Review)
Perhaps one of the most unexpected surprises of 2002, Starship Earth began as an entry for the ShadowKeep “spaceship” contest—I don’t know the exact title of the contest, but the gist of it was to come up with a short story that took place on or around a space craft of some kind. A.J. had been working on a novella called “Starship Earth,” which was centered around an adolescent boy (Sacha) who’d been raised aboard a gigantic space ark of sorts. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, except that A.J. was intending to market the novella professionally.
Sacha’s story was not entered in the contest, although A.J. did write up an additional story, starring Sacha’s parents (Levi and Jocelyn), that would provide a wealth of back-story. However, the final draft turned out to be several thousand words too long and was, as such, not acceptable as contest material.
As an alternate plan, ShadowKeep’s editor (David Bowlin) accepted SE as a standard submission, which appeared in the April, 2002 issue. Reader response was, as A.J. puts it, “abismal,” as many judged the novella to be too lengthy for the Internet’s standard point-and-click audience.
I, on the other hand, and a few other loyal AJT enthusiasts, were in for a real treat, as SE proved to be a fully-fleshed realization of life within the confines of a cosmic jungle paradise. While other such stories might have focused too much on the “space opera” element or the technology involved in migrating hundreds of thousands of species from Earth, A.J. decided to take a different approach altogether and place the ultimate importance on emotion.
The story begins with Levi and Jocelyn, two lovers transported from Earth just before an unnamed catastrophe wipes out the human race, waking up in a lush jungle, and without any of their Earthly possessions (not even clothes!). Through a period of trial and error, they meet other humans, like themselves, brought aboard the “space jungle” to preserve what’s left of humanity—as well as help repopulate the human race.
You got it: sex. SE includes some of the frankest depictions of nudity and sex I’ve ever read, which is perhaps why the typical ShadowKeep reader might have been uninclined to take the novella seriously. And it is true, there are a lot of naked people running around—however, what separates this story from a lot of others is the dignity with which A.J. will present such situations. For example, he is one of the few authors who refers to a penis as a “penis,” and not as a variety of other more commonly used “vulgar” terms so many authors seem to find popular these days. Even with the character Tinah, whose sexual deviance drives her to several awkward attempts at adultery with Levi, the act of promiscuity is not glorified, nor is it cheapened. The narrative remains objective and quite sophisticated throughout. I applaud A.J. for that!
Another (perhaps) misunderstood point to SE: the ending. I’ve read a lot of message board comments referring to the end of SE as being “incomplete” or “unsatisfying,” as if the entire plot had been leading up to some strange encounter with hostile aliens. Again, that’s taken out of context. If you read SE as a romance story, then the climax would be the scene where Levi is sexually assualted (and debilitated by the “paralysis”) by Tinah—no pun intended. SE is not so much a story about aliens and high-tech spaceships as it is a story of love, jealousy, and committment. On this level, A.J. has succeeded very nicely.
This is undoubtedly my favorite A.J. Thompson work. My only complaint is that it might have done better had it been published at a romance site. I mean, wouldn’t it be just wonderful to be stranded, butt-naked, in a jungle paradise with your hunky boyfriend? Ahh, to dream!