The novel “Search the Sky” by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth was published for the first time in 1954. Frederik Pohl published a new revised version in 1985.
Ross is a trader dissatisfied with his job and in general the society he lives in. His city is slowly depopulating but it seems that noone cares about it. When an interstellar starship arrives on his planet, he discovers that things are looking even worse in other star systems because other planets didn’t answer the radio signals sent when the starship passed close to them.
Almost by accident, Ross gets involved in a type of interstellar exploration that’s actually very old. In fact, he discovers that orbiting the planet there’s a very old starship with a propulsion that can make it travel faster than light, unlike the starships that normally make interstellar travel. The task for Ross is to travel among the stars to find out the reason for the decline of humanity. The only clue is a mysterious scientific formula.
Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote some novels and several short stories together. They were among the leading representatives of social science fiction, a subgenre focused on the possible developments of the society in the future. Actually, this type of speculation was born with science fiction since H.G. Wells had already written several stories that examined the future from the social point of view. In the ’50s, however, a number of authors started writing stories with a social background going against the trend of the time to write stories in which science and technology were the dominant subjects.
In 1952, Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth published the novel “The Space Merchants”, a milestone of social science fiction. “Search the Sky” is the third novel produced by their collaboration, which mixes the satire typical of the social subgenre with the cautionary tale.
“Search the Sky” is set many centuries in the future, when humanity has colonized many planets. There’s a form of propulsion faster than light but it’s kept secret to prevent the risk of an interstellar war. Consequently, starships traveling slower than light are generally used so the colonies are isolated.
Ross, the protagonist of “Search the Sky”, lives on a planet colonized about fourteen centuries earlier but its population is slowly declining. Bored with his life and one of the few who sees the problem of the decay of the society he lives in, is the perfect candidate chosen by the person who knows the secret of the starships that travel faster than light to visit the other colonies and understand the reason why there seems to be a general decay.
“Search the Sky” is made up of various parts set on different planets. On each of them there’s a society in which something has gone wrong. Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth satirically explore the possible directions that the decadence of a society could take radicalizing some trends that exist today or turning them upside down.
In “Search the Sky” consistency is sometimes sacrificed to a certain exaggeration but it’s a satire so this is logical. Ross isn’t a hero ready to deal with unexpected situations in which he finds himself on different planets, on the contrary he’s naïve and totally unprepared for the dangers he has to face. The societies Ross meets during his journey maybe don’t make complete sense but if we remove the most colorful elements we can see some disturbing similarities between at least a couple of them and ours.
“Search the Sky” isn’t at the same level of “The Space Merchants”, in which the satire was focused on a subject and for that reason hits the target with much greater strength. The analysis of the decay of the various colonies would’ve deserved a greater development, instead it leads to an ending that makes sense but is rather simplistic in its motivations.
Despite its flaws, in my opinion “Search the Sky” is a good novel, especially because it makes us think about the possible consequences of certain negative trends in our society so I recommend reading it.