Tom Purdom has a new queer sci-fi book out (bi, lesbian, poly): I Want the Stars.
Fleeing a utopian Earth, searching for meaning, Jenorden and his friends take to the stars to save a helpless race from merciless telepathic aliens.
But when travelers from another galaxy appear, offering to answer any question, reveal any secret and end any conflict, are their motives sinister…
Some science fiction books are bonafide classics. Hugo Finalist Tom Purdom’s I Want the Stars is one of them. It sold 70,000 copies when it first came out in 1964, and it was amazingly ahead of its time. Stars compares thematically and stylistically with Babel-17 by Delany (a fellow Philadelphian)..but Stars came first!
As Hugo Finalist Alasdair Stuart put it in his recent review, “This is a fascinating book, not just because Purdom knows how to put together a well-paced, character-driven story but because of how modern it feels.”
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“They’re destroying the Sordini,” Elinee said. “They’re enslaving
an entire race. We should do something.”
“It’s none of our business,” Veneleo said. “You’ll get killed for nothing.”
“It’s nothing to you,” Roseka said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s nothing to everybody else.”
They returned to their star ship and made a reconnaissance from orbit, and the argument went on. Veneleo was definitely against it and Thelia would go wherever Roseka went, but Elinee and Jenorden couldn’t make up their minds. And Roseka felt she needed four people, three to make the landing and one to pilot the vehicle.
Jenorden was tempted. He would have said yes right away if he hadn’t been afraid. When he lay with Roseka that night, they spent hours discussing his emotions and only a few minutes enjoying their bodies. He was afraid to die, and he was afraid of what the Horta could do to his mind, but he was driven by a need to experience everything a human being could experience.
He had grown up in a time when war was as obsolete as sickness and poverty. It had been almost a century since men had last pointed weapons at their own kind. He was glad of that, every member of the human community considered it mankind’s greatest victory, and yet he knew he had missed an experience which had once been a common part of human life. Men had been warriors since they first inhabited the Earth. How could he feel he had known the full range of human experience if he lived out his three centuries without once going into battle?
He would probably never have another chance like this one. Humans never had to fight advanced races, and if they were attacked on primitive worlds they retreated as fast as they could. Here, uniquely, was a situation in which attack could be morally justified. The passion which had sent him to the stars was now demanding he go with Roseka against the Horta.
All through his education, the forty-seven years when everything you did was planned by the community so you would grow to full human stature, he had been obsessed with the size of the universe.
He had grown up knowing the galaxy was inhabited by thousands of races, each one unique and with a history and culture as complicated as the history and culture of mankind. Every year since his twelfth birthday ships had returned from the stars with news of inhabited worlds. Life flowered everywhere. A man could live a million centuries and never know it all.
He had roamed the stars for eight years now and he knew his hunger could never be satisfied. He couldn’t forget all the places he had never seen, and the knowledge he hadn’t learned, and the intelligent beings he had never met. He wanted to experience the whole universe, every star, every life, every world, and the knowledge that it was impossible tormented every hour of his days. He could cross the Milky Way in months and yet, when he compared the limits of his mortal consciousness to the infinite size of the universe, he felt as confined and as angry as a prisoner in a six foot square cell.
He had to have this. He had to know how combat felt. It was part of life and he didn’t want to miss anything.
Elinee was just as tormented. He slept with her the next night and once again he spent most of the time talking. Her needs were very similar to his. She, too, wanted to experience everything. She had come on this voyage because she thought she was an artist. She thought there was some work growing in her imagination and she was feeding whatever it was with everything she experienced. Someday, if she was an artist, it would bloom. She was a human being and this was the first century of the first human civilization. No member of the human community had to work or do anything else he didn’t want to do. Every member of the human community could have anything he wanted, including a ship which could cross the galaxy in months, simply by asking for it. She could do as she pleased with three centuries of life.
“I’m not just afraid of death, Jenorden. I’m afraid this will do something to me.”
“We have to decide something. We’ve been thinking about this for two days now. We haven’t had a good moment since we got here.”
“I know. Even Veneleo’s getting moody.”
“I don’t feel like I’m deciding something. I feel like I’m trying to accept my fate. I know what I’m going to do. All I’m doing now is hesitating.”
“Then let’s wake them up and tell them we’re going to do it.”
He stiffened. “You’ve decided?”
“I’m as decided as I’ll ever be.”
New Haven born, Philadelphia native Tom Purdom exploded onto the science fiction scene in 1957, and he’s never stopped since. His land-breaking 1964 novel, I Want the Stars, pioneered queer themes and featured one of the first person of color protagonists in science fiction. It was a bonafide hit selling some 70,000 copies.
Since then, Tom has written four more novels and dozens of short science fiction pieces, his story Fossil Games winning the Hugo Award in 2000. He continues to regularly be published in the biggest magazines of the field including Asimov’s and Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has also been a pillar of Pennsylvania’s science fiction fan community for more than 60 years.