A Weird Concordance

April 30, 2014

My two-year-old was flipping through a Presbyterian hymnal over the weekend (at my children’s great-grandmother’s memorial service), and saw a hymn called “Star Child,” that started out

Star-child, earth-child, go-between of God

I immediately though of the Starchild Trilogy of novels by Frederic Pohl and Jack Williamson. In the second book (which I liked the least, but some critics felt was the best), The Starchild, the protagonist becomes part man, part computer, part star, to serve as a go-between for humankind, the evil Planning Computer, and the sentient stars. Seeing that line from the hymn, I immediately thought that the novel’s title must have been a reference to the lyrics—an obscure allusion (or maybe not so obscure; I bet I miss a lot of cultural references to Christian religious practices) that I had never before recognized.

However, when I looked into the matter, my initial conclusion turned out to be wrong. The novel was published in 1965 (at a time when Fred Hoyle’s steady state cosmology was effectively debunked, yet it was still possible to use it as the basis for a series of novels); however, the lyricist for the hymn didn’t start writing until the 1970s, and it appears that particularly song was not composed until 1994.

So it appears to have been a coincidence. If there was any influence, it went the other direction. However, that seems unlikely; a little-known science fiction series probably did not affect the work of a hymn writer in New Zealand. If there was an influence from some American science fiction, it probably came from 2001, with its famed giant space baby, who is also an intermediary between humanity and advanced beings. There is a common theme here, which probably just shows that “starchild” is suggestive of something that crosses over between the realms of humans and celestials.

I might write about the first novel in the Starchild Trilogy at some point—The Reefs of Space. I think it is a very well done book, at least through most of the story. However, the reefs of the title never get the attention they quite deserve, and the climax whips by too quickly; the authors do not take the time to finish off some of the threads they have created all that effectively. Alternatively, if I want to write about Pohl, maybe I’ll post about Wolfbane, which is probably the most successful of Pohl’s collaborations with the more whimsical C. M. Cornbluth and features a hilarious conversation with a dead alien.

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