In an ultra-religious agrarian community known as Cypress Corners, young Devon has become an outcast not only for questioning authority, but also for falling in love with Rachel, a farmer’s daughter who has been betrothed to Garth, the local blacksmith. Garth and Devon had been friends since childhood, and since Rachel and Garth do not love one another, the blacksmith is all too happy to turn a blind eye toward the “secret”—and forbidden—romance.
While living out his temporary exile in the hills beyond the town, Devon survives on care packages brought by Rachel, who sneaks away from town after evening prayers. When his penance is complete, the town elders escort Devon back to Cypress Corners, expecting him to repent. Yet Devon remains recalcitrant and soon discovers that the Creator’s Machine, from which the Elders receive their instructions for leading the community, is broken. The Elders have since learned how to record their own orders into the machine and play them back at will.
After attacking the Elders and stealing the recording device, Devon tries to reason with Rachel and her parents, but they do not believe him. Knowing he will soon be arrested, Devon flees for the hills. While there, he discovers a portal that leads to a strange and wondrous place. Devon soon learns that he, and everyone in Cypress Corners, is aboard an ancient interstellar Earth vessel known as the Ark.
Upon finding a library computer, Devon learns that the Ark’s purpose was to transport millions of humans from a dying Earth to a new home across the galaxy—until an accident diverted the ship from its course and sent it on a path directly toward a star. If the Ark cannot be repaired and its course corrected, the ship and everyone aboard will be dead in five years.
This mysterious catastrophe, having occurred 400 years ago, also terminated communications between the thousands of communities aboard. As a result, no one in Cypress Corners is even aware of the other societies, or the truth about their very existence.
Can Devon convince the Elders of this new information and enlist their help in repairing the ship, or will they sentence him to a brutal end for his blasphemy?
Edward Bryant did an admirable job of adapting Harlan Ellison’s screenplay for The Starlost into the novelization. The chapters are brief, averaging about 5 pages, and the pacing is solid.
It would not be a Harlan Ellison book without an introduction as interesting as the story itself. This time, Harlan describes the debacle that ensued from the time he pitched The Starlost all the way through the ineptitude of the producers in marketing it, and their ignorance in utterly misinterpreting the series bible that they had pressed him into writing on an impossible deadline.
As a result of his experiences, and his dissatisfaction with the quality of the production, Harlan removed himself from the television project and demanded that his nom de plume, Cordwainer Bird, be used in the credits. Harlan was known to employ this pseudonym as a symbol of his objection to the mistreatment of his work by others.