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The Getaway Special
Jerry Oltion
Tor Books, 400 pages

The Getaway Special
Jerry Oltion
Jerry Oltion has been a gardener, stone mason, carpenter, oilfield worker, forester, land surveyor, rock 'n' roll deejay, printer, proofreader, editor, publisher, computer consultant, movie extra, corporate secretary, and garbage truck driver. For the last 20 years he has also been a writer, with 13 novels and over 100 stories published so far. His novella, "Abandon in Place," won the Nebula Award for best novella of 1997. Another of his stories, "The Astronaut from Wyoming," co-written with Adam-Troy Castro and published in the July/August 1999 issue of Analog, was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo award. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Eugene, Oregon.

Jerry Oltion Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Jerry Oltion's The Getaway Special is science fiction of the most wish-fulfilling variety. From the opening sequence in which a mad scientist serving as a mission specialist hijacks the space shuttle to the last page, Oltion achieves a "gosh-wow" story that only misses being a grand space opera by the most minutest gap.

Although The Getaway Special features Alan Meisner, a scientist who also appeared in Oltion's novel Abandon in Place, the two novels are not set in the same universe as each other. Meisner opens the novel as a civilian scientist on a shuttle mission with three astronauts. Although he is aboard to perform an experiment which has NASA approval, nobody knows that Meisner's real agenda is to demonstrate his hyperdrive. At the same time, he releases the technical details on the internet. To his surprise, the governments of the world try to suppress his discovery and he finds himself on the run with Judy Gallagher, the shuttle pilot he manages to convince to accompany him.

While on the lam, Oltion has his characters give a primer on how to build an interstellar spaceship in their own backyard. Without having a chance to test their spaceship, they launch as the government closes in on them. Their resulting sojourns provides a travelogue as they search star system after star system for a planet which they can settle as their own personal paradise.

Meisner and Gallagher, Oltion's main characters, are well-defined, and readers will quickly come to root for them, understanding their ability to make friends wherever they happen to be, whether on Earth or on a strange planet. At the same time, however, their own relationship seems a little too pat. They become involved with each other for the simple reason that they are the only characters who can form a bond with them, the remaining characters either being too fleeting in the novel or not available. There is no indication that Meisner and Gallagher would have wound up together in any other circumstances. The technological advance Meisner introduces, which allows common people to build interstellar spacecraft out of such unlikely materials as a septic tank, is a black box. Oltion makes no attempt to explain how Meisner's hyperdrive works. The fact that it does is all that is necessary for the novel.

The Getaway Special is science fictional escapism of the highest level.

It brings the ability to go into space to the common man at a reasonable price. Anyone who has watched a launch and imagined him or herself aboard the shuttle or the capsule will empathize with Oltion characters, not just the main ones, but minor characters like Nicholas Onnescu as well.

When Oltion's heroes finally do find their own planet to explore, the action is cautious and surprising. Oltion depicts his planet well, giving the reader the clues necessary to understand at least part of what is happening without allowing his characters to look like incompetents. He also doesn't reveal so much about the planet that the reader isn't surprised when Gallagher and Meisner do eventually figure out what is happening.

The ending of The Getaway Special leaves plenty of room for sequels which can easily file themselves as space opera, allowing Oltion to develop greater numbers of interesting aliens and worlds for his explorers to find and befriend. With luck, Oltion will decide he can demonstrate his talent and say what he wants to say within the framework he creates in The Getaway Special and to allow him to write some of those hypothetical sequels.

Copyright © 2002 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver in one of SF Site's Contributing Editors as well as one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He is Chairman of Windycon 29 and Midwest Construction 1. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is the editor of three anthologies forthcoming from DAW. He is a two-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer. He lives in Illinois with one wife, two daughters and 5000 books.

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