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Starclimber by Kenneth Opel: an Essay

By Edited Jul 15, 2016 0 0

Andre Gide said, "Man cannot discover new oceans until he has the courage to lose sight of the shore". In Starclimber, Kenneth Opel examines society's willingness to learn and accept new things, when on the breach of a great scientific discovery. In a technologically advanced Victorian age, where scientists are on the verge of space travel, many controversies arise from people who are not open to new ideas. Opel ultimately shows how general discovery is impossible without freedom of thought and willingness to learn and accept new things.

When the french government starts building a giant tower to space, a group of fanatics called Babelites are severely against it. Named after the tower of Babel, these Babelites try to sabotage the tower's construction, risking countless lives, because they believe it is against God's will; "This tower is wrong. We are angering God. This tower is a blight upon all humans. It must be destroyed, and we will do it" (p.121). When the Canadian government develops a top-secret space program involving rockets, the Babelites infiltrate the facility and try to sabotage the launch. They plant bombs, kidnap engineers, they assassinate key political figures, all because they were unwilling to accept other people's ideas and beliefs. One of the Babelites planting a bomb says, "There is no way it can be right. It is our duty to strike it down before God does. It is just like the tower of Babel, unnatural and the work of Satan. Even if God does allow it, we can't take that risk, and if you get in our way, we'll take you down as well" (p.147).

When the Canadian "Starclimber" space initiative succeeds, the government chooses key scientific figures to go on board the maiden voyage. Aboard is a zoologist named "Sir Hugh Snuffler" who is very closed-minded. Even once they are in space observing totally unforeseeable and incredible things no man has ever set eyes on before, he arrogantly pontificates about his absolute assurance that there is no life in space whatsoever. Even before the space flight he gets in a fight with one of the main characters, Kate DeVries when she holds a lecture about an incredible new species she discovered. The creature is nothing like anything anyone has seen before and Sir Hugh Snuffler without even seeing the well documented scientific process, or the set of bones and photographs refuses to believe it is real; "No! No, I won't stand a moment more of this nonsense….it wounds me that this fine institution even hosts this carnival show, but to have passed it off as science..." (p.30). Even when Kate reveals a live specimen she kept in a glass case, he ruins her presentation in indignation that it is a fake. He barges to the stage and shoving her out of the way, opens her specimen case, "'Some of you may think this creature genuine, but it's little more then puppetry! Clockwork and a bit of balloon then, is it? It looks as real as a wind-up toy!' He fumbled with the case's latch. 'I'll show you the real "specimen"" (p.33). Little did he know that the specimen in question had thousands of volts of electrical current running through it's tentacles, he got quite badly hurt.

When Matt Cruse, the main character, is asked about whether he would go into space, he responds, "In a heartbeat" (p.3). He is open to knew things, discoveries, experiences and he has an adventurous heart. He is chosen for the training program to go into space and he tires his hardest to succeed, because he is curious as to what is up in space. When viewing the stars in an observatory with his girlfriend Kate he says, "…isn't it amazing how huge space is and how little we are? I'm sure there are other people, other things out there. Someday, someone will find them…" (p.98). When on the voyage he wants to be the first spacewalker, "Even though he knew Tobias would put on a more confident show for the camera back inside, Matt felt a stab of jealousy that it wasn't him going out to explore space first" (pg.348). Matt's open-mindedness allows him to adapt to space life much quicker then the others. When a space creature enters the vessel, instead of cowering in the corner denying it, he immediately accepts that it is real, and starts to try to capture it; "As the thing zoomed menacingly around the cramped cabin, Matt immediately sprang into action, grabbing the nearest soup bowl and launching after it" (p.457). His willingness to accept new things, serves him well, and enables him to discover incredible wonders.
Kate DeVries is a voracious amateur scientist, with a hunger for new things. She balances out the close-mindedness of Sir Hugh Snuffler and accepts, even expects wild new life in space. When Matt asks her about whether she thinks there are other creatures in space she replies, "…of course there are, otherwise what's the point? And it's OUR job to find them" (p. 267). She is constantly exploring and she hungers for adventure. She is dedicated to finding new things, and she does. Her openness to believe in things, allows her to learning and discovery.

All of these characters represent different sides of society, those who are willing and open to discovery and the unknown, and those who are closed even to the point of fanaticism and public destruction. From the fanatic Babelites, to the adventurous Matt Cruse, the characters allow us to see how being open to other people, and accepting of new ideas is best for everyone, and beneficial to society. To discover and learn new things, you must accept the possibility of being wrong, and of not knowing anything.



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