This book is available for free download in various formats and sources:
Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19471
Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/21439
The book pictures a society
in which special interests have taken over, and in particular (following a
plague) the medical profession has become one of the most powerful forces in
society. The first chapter introduces the reader to the protagonist, former
doctor Dan Feldman, and a flashback explaining how he became an outcast of the
medical lobby. This is followed by what amounts to a political rant on how our
society has gotten out of control with an unreasonable extension of democracy
in which everyone wants rights without responsibilities, that this has led to
government spending on too many services, etc. If one entirely agrees with
this, perhaps they won't feel it interrupts the flow of the book. I wouldn't
say that there are no bits of truth in some of the rant, but it did seem like a
rant. Nor did it strike me as essential to lay the foundation for the
remainder of the story.
Initially, we see Feldman as
a down-and-out person in a flophouse. The medical establishment has made him
an outcast after he was convicted of performing an emergency medical procedure not
in an authorized medical facility. (There was no such facility available.)
Shortly thereafter, he is provoked into illegally emigrating to Mars. On Mars,
he is recruited / manipulated into working as a doctor in the villages where
the oversight of the medical establishment is limited. Doing so is an
extremely serious crime at such time as he gets caught, but Feldman has a deep
desire to be a healer.
That goes on for a year
before he is detected and entrapped by the establishment. From there, things
take a more twisting path - including his research into a new plague caused by
a Martian micro-organism and a rebellion on Mars.
There are some elements of
the story that may feel dated. And some elements (such as native plants on
Mars) have been dated by more recent scientific knowledge. Readers with modern
views of smoking may also find it "interesting".
It's a rather short book and
reasonably entertaining. Your reaction will probably depend on your taste for
SF of the 1950s and 1960s. (I believe this book was actually published in
1973, but it has the flavor of an earlier era.) Those who like medical elements
or planets rebelling for independence will also find more to appreciate here.
I used the Podiobooks version
which is also associated with the Prometheus Radio Theater. The presentation
was good, but at the change of every chapter there are short appeals to go to the
Regarding Del Rey's political
rant near the beginning of the book. I wouldn't disagree that most people
would like to have their cake and eat it too, to get something for nothing, and
so forth. To avoid prolonging my own rant, let me just say I think the
alternatives offered by those who make these kinds of complaints would only be
better for a small minority.
(1) If those who benefited
most from putting in an extra effort were generally those of the greatest
talent, I might think differently. The world's greatest scientists, engineers,
doctors, educators, artists, and such professionals do often gain from their
efforts, but nowhere nearly as much as businessmen who simply have predatory
skill, ruthlessness and somewhat above average intelligence. Their gain is out
of proportion to their skill and effort. If we believe a person shouldn't get
something for nothing simply because he can get it, we should have standards
for how much businessmen genuinely deserve as opposed to what they can grab.
(2) Generally speaking, the
work of a businessman is to move wealth from one place to another, whether this
happens to involve a business that increases the world's net wealth or merely
alters which people have which part of the previously existing net wealth.
Some occupations actually increase the total wealth in the world. If we are
going to have a system truly based on "something for something"
rather than "something for nothing", it should take this into account.
(3) A society that believes
people should earn their place and not get something for nothing should:
a) Forbid vast inheritances (the heir gets something for nothing)
b) Tax the idle rich at a higher rate than the working rich and poor
c) Require companies to earn their sales with ads that focus on verifiable product features
rather than subtle manipulations of consumers
I don’t know what Del Rey
believed on such questions. However, I know that most people who complain
people want something for nothing usually don’t mean those born into wealth
should have to earn their living.