When I was nine or ten years old, the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar showed up on my black and white television. I liked the music and was confused by the tanks and American soldiers showing up in place of Roman centurions, but what i remember best was a scene in which Caiaphas or Pilate — some official anyway — looked out on the crown of Jesus' supporters and sang about how "There must be more than 50,000" of them.
Thing is, Jesus Christ Superstar was made on the cheap (or looked to be) and, unless my memory utterly fails me, that "crowd" was much closer to fifty people than it was to fifty thousand. At that age, such a discrepancy utterly shattered my suspension of disbelief, no matter how good the music.
Unlike a film's, a novel's crowd scenes are limited only by power of the author's imagination, which is one reason why there are a great many epic science fiction novels but very few epic science fiction movies.
So it is particularly strange that the scope of Pamela Sargent's ostensible epic, Venus of Dreams, feels every bit as small as that crowd dancing on the sands of the Judean desert. A 500 page novel about terraforming the planet Venus, that takes place over decades, ought to be a sweeping and complex tale encompassing science and culture, technology and politics, with a large (if not necessarily larger-than-life) and representative cast of characters throwing light on societies and mores other than our own.
Venus of Dreams manages none of these things. Instead this confused mess of a novel begins as an unconvincing bildungsroman, awkwardly transitions into an even less convincing story of political intrigue and ends with an utterly improbable attempt at revolution against a government we never really understand in the first place.
Click here to read my cranky review in full at Edifice Rex Online.
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