Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jak and the Beanstalk

Novelette by Richard A. Lovett

The Beanstalk is a colloquial name for Earth's new space elevator, and Jak was born in the year it first went up. Partially inspired by the classic tale, Jak latches on to a love of climbing and never lets go. He dreams of climbing the Beanstalk, and in college, with some physics classes, he realizes it might just be possible. The first third of the story is Jak's life up to that point, neither Jak nor the story do anything but prepare for the climb. It's just an athletics or exploration achievement story.

The physics are well thought out, and Jak's solution to the problem is rather clever, but that isn't really what I read fiction for, although I must say I'm impressed by the thought Lovett obviously put into it. The real story begins once Jak is well into his climb, and becomes introspective about just why he is climbing in the first place. A childhood dream becomes a dream of fame and book deals, and history-making. "Because it's there" transitions into a feeling of "because I have nothing else". Jak looks back on the life he wasted preparing for something that no one is even going to notice, and the life he can't have because he's locked into his dream.

Two-thirds of the way through the story, Jak reaches what should have been the climax, and it's deliberately anti-climatic. He gets to the station at the top of the Beanstalk. Jak's thought upon arrival sums up much of the story: "Earth was also the past. Climbing had been the present. and now, unprepared, he was in the future." Jak doesn't know what to expect, but he tries to build a life, and essentially learns that the journey is more important than the destination.

Now I've outlined the plot pretty thoroughly, but there are still some twists, and although I'm not revealing the ending, this story is most worth reading for the path it takes to get there. I've outlined the themes, but the planning and execution of the climb are actually pretty interesting, and the major surprise to this story makes it a bit harder hitting. It's an extremely lonely story about a man so wrapped up in his obsession that he lets the whole world pass him by without leaving a trace. And maybe that's okay.

4 giant Beanstalks out of 5.

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