philosophical thought in fiction
By Joshua W. Bingham
Gadsden Times, Staff Writer
Portals in a Northern Sky,
by Charles Douglas Hayes (Autodidactic Press, $24.95), is a
science fiction novel, a history lesson, a guided tour of North
America's beauty and a thought-provoking work of philosophy.
There are some books I have
received from friends which I later passed on to other friends
because they were books that needed to be shared. Who the
original owners of the books were we usually didn't know, and
that was part of the beauty and mystery.
I see this book in that
In the first 40 pages or so
of the 378-page novel, readers are introduced to strong
characters of today and some pilgrims of the 19th
The characters are all
connected, however, either by relation or by their own
present-day pilgrimages to Alaska.
Wall Street whiz kid Robert
Thornton leaves New York to hitchhike to Alaska just as he is
reaching the top form of his career.
Police officer Vincent
Howard Terrell gets a vigilante urge before taking his niece and
girlfriend from Dallas to an old family cabin in Alaska.
Scientist Adam Whitehead
sets all his worldly affairs in order before going to the
Alaskan wilderness, where he thinks it's his time to die.
These characters and the
chapters that jump between their lives capture current times
well. Although not as subtle as other authors of society, such
as John Updike, Hayes is able to make intellectual butterflies
flutter in his own simple way.
The build is great, and the
jumps between story lines are presented in such a manner that to
finish the book seems quick.
However, when all the story
lines finally catch up with one another, the climax is a bit
quick and seemed over before I had fully absorbed what was
There is some subtlety,
however, in the way the different characters' lives are pieced
together through generations to prove an overwhelming point of
the novel live in the now.
On the philosophical side of
things, Hayes has characters question each other and themselves,
which ultimately leads the reader to do the same. And the
overall question is that of a belief in destination.
This strong theme begins in
the prologue, where Hayes discusses America's pioneers, manifest
destiny and two obvious influences of Hayes and the novel:
Herman Melville and Jack London. And as Hayes writes was the
major question Melville posed to intellectual circles circa 19th
century in "Moby-Dick; or, The Whale," Is fate a reality or an
illusion? Hayes does the same.
Can people viably believe in
fate? Would it then be faith-based? Is there anything more to
such a belief than American egos having to hold mirrors to their
lives and succumb to the MTV-thrusted individuality of
"But that's how the illusion
of fate works," says Ruben Sanchez, a bookstore owner and
philosopher who picks up Thornton and transports him to Alaska.
"We cannot help but think of ourselves as being significant. As
individual, we occupy center stage in our own lives."
The science fiction part of
the novel is that through Whitehead's work, the United States
government is about to release worldwide a new technology
allowing everybody to see on computer screens historical events
as they actually occurred.
What if everybody could see
history as it really happened, and not as the winners wrote it?
Would something like this ever come about?
And if it did, wouldn't
there be an uproar about invasion of privacy?
Hayes has more philosophy on
the greater good to spit from the mouths of his characters on
such an interesting idea.
Perhaps only in a science
fiction novel could such a concept be written of on a reality
level, but the book really hits as a beard-stroking work of
philosophy full in intellectual candy.
And Hayes is able to discuss
these things and reference many other staples of American
literature in a point-blank fashion.
The many references don't
confuse, but instill wonder and pique interest.
Overall, Hayes' manner is
direct, conversational and well-spoken. Yet, in our
attention-deficit society, this is a fine way to introduce young
readers to ideas many times too convoluted in the books of, say
Nietzsche, who is mentioned a few times.
This is a perfect book for
high school English teachers to regard as a way to bring many
other aspects of literature to students' attention while also
provoking excitement about personal beliefs. Fully involved
class discussions will surely follow.
A former police officer and
current resident of Alaska, Hayes is able to bring true and
believable experiences to his debut fictional novel in
'Portals in a Northern Sky"
is a book to be heralded, and Hayes is an author of fully
rounded intellect to be recognized.