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The Last Harbor
George Foy
Bantam Spectra, 275 pages

The Last Harbor
George Foy
George Foy is a writer and journalist. He has published several novels, including Challenge, Asia Rip, and The Shift. He has worked as a commercial fisherman, a vacuum-molding machine operator, and a paralegal in New York City law firms. He has traveled into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan with an arms-smuggling caravan, acted on network television, and participated in the creation of a CD-ROM game. He lives with his family on a sloop somewhere on the East Coast.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Article: Let Me Explain Certain Things George Foy
Review of Contraband
Excerpt: The Last Harbor

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

To all appearances, John Slocum is a success: a high-level executive with mega-corporation XCorp Multimedia, in charge of developing 3-D interactive shows for the Flash, the sense-enveloping virtual reality environment that provides the ubiquitous background for millions of lives. He has all the perks of wealth and privilege, including a gorgeous home and a perfect family. He's also, like so many others of his kind, addicted to Flash, and spends nearly every waking hour with a face-sucker (VR mask) on, viewing 3-D dramas as he goes about the ordinary business of his life.

But Slocum is more self-aware than most of his colleagues, and he has slowly become disgusted with the way the Flash saps his ability to sense and feel apart from the cues of 3-D. In a spasmodic attempt to force a change, he quits his XCorp job and goes to work for the Independent Credit Entity, a ragtag alternative community founded on a philosophy of smallness, interdependence, individuality -- the polar opposite of giant Orgs like XCorp, whose size has transformed them into what amounts to independent, self-interested life-forms. But things don't work out with ICE. Slocum's wife leaves him, taking his daughter. Now Slocum lives alone on a sloop whose engine suffers from chronic mechanical failure, berthed in a decaying harbor in a crumbling New England town. He spends his days puttering about his boat and dreaming of escape, a routine broken by futile attempts to see his daughter and by visits to the Sunset Tap, a bar where outsiders like himself gather.

The sloop and its berth are all Slocum has, so when representatives of the town Council tell him he must move to make room for a large ship that is coming into harbor, he refuses. He half-believes the ship doesn't exist; when he wakes one night to find it has already arrived -- a vast luxury liner like something out of the past century -- it seems more dream than real. It carries, apparently, only a single passenger, a mysterious dark-haired woman. As a hurricane moves inexorably up the coast, and the Council steps up its efforts to make him move, Slocum's growing fascination with the woman and the ship lead him toward a secret that may offer the escape he craves -- but at a price that may be too high to pay.

The Last Harbor is set in the same near-future world as The Shift, Contraband, and The Memory of Fire. Like the latter two novels, it's concerned with the nodes (alternative communities like the ICE) and their opposition to the Orgs; but its focus is more on those who've fallen out of (or have never chosen to be part of) either sort of community, and live between the cracks -- from the regulars at the Sunset Tap to the whores and toughs who hang out at Madame Ling's fortunetelling parlor to the little group of hobos who ride America's vanishing rails. Foy's evocation of the precarious existence of these people, and of the small, defiant sense of community they evolve despite their alienation, is both lyrical and profoundly melancholy, and sharply contrasted to the anomic, overstimulated excesses of Slocum's former colleagues, when he returns briefly to that world.

Though The Last Harbor is shaped by its science fictional content -- especially Slocum's Flash addiction, which is painstakingly examined -- it reads for the most part like a mainstream literary novel, exploring the same territory of physical decline and moral defeat that has been dissected in detail by such non-genre writers as Robert Stone. The bulk of the novel involves Slocum's efforts to understand his failures and pierce his many self-deceptions, and work his way back to something like a responsible life. Much of the action is internal; the external encounters that trigger Slocum's ruminations and propel him, bit by bit, toward transformation aren't particularly suspenseful, despite their deep significance for Slocum, and their often explicit symbolism (such as the unending quest to fix the unfixable sloop). The drama lies in the process of transformation itself, and in the choice Slocum faces at the novel's conclusion -- a choice that (depending on how you read it) is either the final step in his struggle to break free, or a catastrophic re-surrender to slavery.

Straight science fiction fans, or those who liked Foy's more conventionally cyberpunkish books, may find this rather dull -- and they will certainly be frustrated by the ending, in which a Big Science Fiction Idea, which might have been the center of another book, is put forward and disposed of in a page or two. But for those who appreciate more literary work, The Last Harbor offers a feast of imagery and atmosphere, and a compelling portrait of a flawed man coming to grips with his own history.

Copyright © 2001 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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