Bill Hastings was one in a million. He was the winner of a planet-wide contest, and the prize was a chance to spend a year working at the 1992 World's Fair. For the young xenology student, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Fifty thousand miles above the Earth, a gigantic satellite moved in its elegant orbit. It would be Bill's home for a year, and host to hundreds of thousands of visitors. The 1992 World's Fair was to be an orbital extravaganza, and Bill Hastings thought that his dreams had come true. He had a lot to learn.
A sequel to Regan's Planet, as Silverberg goes to great lengths to explain in the Introduction. Apparently many people think it is Regan's Planet, either retitled or rewritten. It was listed that way in the F&SF bibliography, and I think the error grew from there, exacerbated by the fact that not very many people have read either one of the books.
While Regan's Planet concerns the genesis of the great orbital exposition built by billionaire Claud Regan, this book centers on the adventures of Bill Hastings, an American boy who wins a contest with his essay on the possibilities of life on onther planets, including even Pluto. The prize is a year spent aboard the World's Fair space station, working in the Mars Pavillion, where six Old Martians will be living in an exhibit. For a middle-class boy with dreams of studying xenobiology, it is a dream come true.
But, as in all good stories, the dream turns out to not be what he expected. First of all, there is a philosophical and moral quandary among the scientists at the Mars Pavillion: Was it right to remove the rather passive but obviously intelligent Martians from their homes and put them on display for the public's amusement (and Regan's profit)? Considering the time when it was written, and the age group for whom it was intended, I found this emphasis on the moral issue quite surprising.
The other twist in the story is something I need not get into (spoilers, you know), but provides some adventure of a more physical nature, a little lesson in the mechanics of space travel, and some more speculation about life forms on the planets of our solar system. It also involves the same moral dilemma faced with the Martians.
World's Fair 1992 is a reasonably good read, and considered with Silverberg's other juvenile novels, probably ranks just below Time of the Great Freeze and Across a Billion Years. There are lots of historical innacuracies in the prediction, but I don't find it too hard to look past those, mentally transposing the story to 2092. One thing Silverberg didn't manage to foresee is the change in attitude to Columbus. Even without space travel, at the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, America was not singing his praises in the ways that the people of the 1960s expected.
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