Finish Line (1976) Book Review and Analysis
by Stephen Goldin
Finish Line is actually the second half of a longer novel called Scavenger Hunt (the first one of the duology is also called Scavenger Hunt). The publishers wanted to break it into two because it was too long. I have not read Scavenger Hunt but I was excited to read this one so I just jumped in. As the internet said, there is a prologue at the start where the main character tells a reporter what happened to his crew in the first half of the race. That being said, I highly suggest getting the version with both parts combined or finding both parts. Ah, regret, you join me once again.
I bought this novel at a used book store in Kincardine, Ontario, when I was on vacation. Laser Books is one of my favourite OSCF publishers.
Finish Line follows Bred and Tyla, twins who are taking part in an intergalactic scavenger hunt. They are accompanied by a robot that tells them what items they need to obtain and where to obtain them, as well as determining whether they’ve met the requirements. Bred owns a very fancy space ship with an all-female crew who are joined by an android named Jonathan. They are up against other contestants, but the only one we meet is Ambic Jusser, an unscrupulous jerk.
Due to essentially missing the first half, the story takes a little bit to get into. The characters feel a little flat at first, presumably because I should have gotten to know them earlier in their story. Yet, by about halfway through the story broadens and I grew very involved in what was going to happen. There is a section dealing with a black hole that is fantastic. The dilemmas the characters faced throughout their quest were engrossing and surprising in their depth. Bred, despite being a rich playboy, does not fall into a cliched version of the cocky casanova. Yet, the love story between Tyla and Jonathan falls quite flat, unfortunately, for being a crux of the plot. Still, the ending is not what I expected at all and there is a fabulous friendship between two women.
Unlike most campy novels from this time period, this science fiction is quite well-researched. Realistic space science factors into the plot.
Overall, Finish Line is a compelling and fun adventure despite missing its racing start.
4 / 5 Honey Bees!
On the first page, it’s explained that “no faster way was found to send a message between stars than by putting a letter aboard a ship”. This book obviously predates email, but this is definitely not a true statement regardless. Radio waves travel quite fast and we can beam messages at the speed of light, meaning we could get a message to the sun in about 8 minutes. Not instantaneous, but far better than the Intergalactic Pony Express or whatever Goldin is assuming we would use.
On their table, the crew have an “Electric Susan”, which is an elevated lazy Susan. I found this quite funny.
There is also the concept of Androids. In this book, they are created in “vats” instead of wombs and given special heat-resistant skin. Most readers today would not really consider Jonathan an android (more so a clone), though it is technically accurate based on the original definition of the concept.
Here’s a rundown on all "artificial" people.
Robots are fully mechanical beings with no human components whatsoever
Cyborgs are humans that augment or replace parts of themselves with robotics.
Clones are humans built from copied DNA, often modified.
Androids are most often mechanical/robots with human-like skin overtop, such as the “Replicants” from Blade Runner or Ash from Alien. RIP Ian Holm.
Eric G. Wilson, who defines an android as a "synthetic human being", distinguishes between three types of android, based on their body's composition:
the mummy type – made of "dead things" or "stiff, inanimate, natural material", such as mummies, puppets, dolls and statues.
the golem type – made from flexible, possibly organic material, including golems and homunculi.
the automaton type – made from a mix of dead and living parts, including automatons and robots.
Today Jonathan would likely fall into the clone category, but at the time he was accurately described as an android.
There was some more tech stuff too!
If you want to learn how stars die or go supernova, there’s a two-page explanation.
Time dilation is also used to cause tension which I thought was quite clever.
It is quite funny that one of the women on the crew is the “Computer”, which back then is someone who calculates equations, as Goldin didn’t fathom an actual computer doing this, I guess, only simple tasks.
They also have a robot that follows them around called the "Umpire" who makes sure they don’t cheat at the scavenger hunt. And their ship is called The Honey Bee with two shuttles called Queen and Drone. I died. So cute.
In truth, aside from the Electric Susan and lack of email, most of the science in this book is quite serious and well-researched.
Analysis - Here be Spoilers!
I don’t have a lot of analysis here, because the novel was quite short and nothing to rant about.
I’m not sure how the female characters were first approached in Scavenger Hunt, but in this novel I was very impressed. The novel managed to trick me! Bred comes off as quite the playboy and almost roguish at the start of the novel (due to his attempts to woo/seduce reporter Shino), so when the women arrive on the scene I assumed they were a playgirl harem of his. instead, they are his crew. Each is capable and well-rounded and have their own side stories. I was wholly impressed by this aspect.
Likewise, there are a range of body types, which was nice to see. None of them were sexualized upon their arrival, aside from Tyla, who dressed to be sexy. Her brother, in fact, teases her about it. You have:
Luuj Kirre, the captain, who is “tall and angular”, Astrogator Sora who is “a tall, willowy redhead with almost no figure”, Engineer Nezla who is “a short, chunky brunette with a mammalian figure” (I don’t know what that means), Computer Dru who is “short, slightly dumpy with a moon-shaped face and a perpetually sad expression”, and Dr. Vini who is “medium height and build, strawberry blonde.”
There’s a bit of a reverse Bechdel Test, where we have quite a long segment with two men talking about their relationship with women. In fact, Bred and Jonathan usually only talk about Tyla, so that was interesting. Usually, in books of this time period, we would get one woman with a crew of dudes and she and one other woman (if she even exists) would talk about the dude she likes.
There are a couple of people of colour. The Captain, who is black, and Shino, a reporter. Neither of whom are represented as stereotypes or are killed off. In fact, aside from their first description, their appearance and race are not mentioned again. But, Luuj is the only person of colour in the crew, which is very white.
Likewise, there is no LGBTQ+ representation. I kind of got a hint between Sora and Nezla, but it wasn’t overt. In fact, there is mention of how the crewwomen were happy to have Jonathan on board because there was another man to sleep with. The sexual agency on part of the women was nice to see, but there was a missed opportunity to make one of the women a lesbian or bisexual, but given Luuj doesn’t participate in the action, perhaps she is.
Bred was a bit refreshing. While he is a little bit of a roguish playboy type, he is more concerned about Tyla’s happiness than winning the race, and he clearly cares about his crew. He is also quite average in appearance. He is "of medium height with a full reddish beard". He also wears glasses despite not needing them, making him a space hipster! He gets a lot more page time than most of the cast, despite not doing anything but owning the ship, but for a 1970s hero, he’s quite different.
I could also talk about Android rights, as Jonathan mentions it at one point, and it’s clear there is a bit of a caste system with them on the bottom. And at one point one of the antagonist’s friends talks about murdering Jonathan by “throwing it back in the lava pit and letting it die.” But there wasn’t enough of that to make much of a case for it.
I’m starting a new thing! I may have “stolen” the idea from Kriti’s Armed with a Book Blog, but here is my ranking of the aspects of this title (which have nothing to do with my overall ranking, which is based on enjoyment and narrative craft).
*I will give a novel a 1 if there is no representation at all. A book would get a 0 if there was disparaging characterization or horrendous stereotypes.
“It was growing now, this pore in space, this vacuity that was infinitely more tenuous than vacuum.”