Spider Robinson makes some jarring narrative decisions throughout the book! The most jarring for me has to be the end of chapter fifteen where Isham is in too big of a hurry to explain why he’s on “red alert” and why he’s summoned a Musky cavalry but has enough time to dispense a lecture about using grain alcohol as a fuel instead of gasoline. (Robinson is often info dumpy in this way, but this was particularly dumpy.)
Another thing I found jarring was the way that we don’t get any explanation for why Isham jumped up and started getting ready to head off with a posse of Muskies, Mike and Carlton. We just knew that there was apparently an emergency, which at the same time is not enough of an emergency that they have time to talk about the type of fuel. I am not sure if this was an attempt to create suspense or if the writer thought he had provided sufficient clues. (Basically, the problem is I don’t actually like the narrative style so I nitpick a lot.)
Isham, Mike and Carlton head out of New York via Harlem where they are briefly waylaid by “Grey Brother,” that is to say, by a vast seething swarm of rats. (Yes, a vast seething swarm of rats with no fear and a mighty hunger is dangerous to three guys in a truck, even if they have a flamethrower.) Isham is able to persuade the swarm to go elsewhere using his telepathy. Carlson and Mike are extremely impressed by this!
The people of Fresh Start and Jordan’s Agro Army are lined up with Jordan planning on burning Fresh Start to the ground. Isham reasons that since his father is dead, Jordan will want to avoid hurting anyone. Isham crashes through the gate, along with six Names of Muskies. The cavalry has arrived, though the Fresh Starters are suspicious.
Isham manages to convince Krishnamurti to allow him to be the spokesman for Fresh Start. Isham also manages to get Jordan to agree to negotiation. He heads out with Krishnamurti and Collacci. Things do not initially go very well since Jordan’s terms involve “let me burn down Fresh Start and then I’ll release Alia.” Isham’s trump card is to have the Muskies make like Damocles Sword, which effectively hamstrings everyone’s plans to do violence.
Jordan is mighty displeased by this turn of events and notes that it is strange that suddenly Isham has control over the Muskies. Isham once again attempts to sell the idea of peace between humanity and the Muskies. This does not initially go very well! In fact, Jordan does not care very much at all about the idea of making peace and is all set to attack, Muskies or no Muskies. Then Isham calls on High Mistral, who descends and mind melds with Jordan, causing him to have a complete change of heart!
The chapter ends with a supreme case of parental dickery: it turns out that Jacob Stone is not dead. He is very much alive. Seeing his dad among the living causes Isham to fall over in a dead faint.
The Muskies helpfully prevent Isham from taking complete leave of his senses!
When Isham finally wakes up he sees his father and they have a heartwarming father-son blubber fest. We learn that some aspects of Isham’s initial deductions concerning his father’s guilt were inaccurate. Jacob was in fact aware of the trap and realized that a) Isham knew the truth and b) was willing to kill him because of it. Jacob deliberately set off the trap so that Isham would think he was dead and spent the following weeks hiding in Krishnamurti’s attic being an emotional wreck.
It also turns out that the trial and threatened execution was actually a set up where Krishnamurti was desperately attempting to get Jacob to snap out of his funk. (This can be taken as a prime example on why Krishnamurti is not the “big idea” person, because this sounds like an extremely stupid idea.) While Jacob was wallowing in the horror of his actions, he also came to the realization that he is a mega asshat for his treatment of Helen Phinney. Fortunately, Helen is apparently a very forgiving individual because she agrees to marry him anyway.
Later, Isham has various conversations with High Mistral and various humans. Things seem to be winding down in the story since the main conflicts have been or are approaching resolution.
The final part gives us a view of the resolution of the story and begins with a conversation about “telempathy” between Isham and Alia. It turns out that it is quite likely that Alia and Isham’s future kid will be an even stronger Telempath than Isham! We also learn that the effects of the Hyperosmic Plague are beginning to wear off. Or at least, people are beginning to re-acquire the ability to “turn off” or grow acclimated to extreme stinks. We see that Jordon has rejoined Fresh Start and is more than willing to go toe-to-toe to defend his arguments about composting techniques and other matters that he is well-versed in! This means that Isham must occasionally step in and mediate.
Everything is not all roses though. Poor Carlson is still seen as an Evil Scientist even after Jacob Stone confesses the truth. Also, Carlson has been so alone for so long that he actually does not have enough spoons to deal with many people all at once. Carlson is therefore still having to live up in New York. Another problem is that with the war over on all fronts, Collaci has nothing to do with his time! The problem is solved by having Collaci go on a mission to spread the word of peace with other communities.
We also get some more in-depth family moments where we discover that a good portion of Helen’s dislike of Isham is because Isham looks like his mom. (So it was a weird variety of jealousy because she didn’t think she’d ever be able to be in a relationship or have a family with Jacob.) The issue resolved largely because she IS currently in a relationship with Isham’s dad and she is also expecting. This creates an emotional family moment between Helen and Isham!
The novel ends with some very positive feelings about the future and possible plans to set Carlson up on a blind date with a Mrs. Wilson at some point.
My general opinion of this book is that it has some interesting ideas but some problems with pacing. It is also kind of dated, particularly where disabilities are concerned. (One of the things I did not mention previously was a reference to someone being driven “into autism” by the Plague or the Muskies.) I’ve already mentioned in detail my problems with the “last gay standing” plot point and a few issues concerning race and character interaction.