Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Forge of God & The Anvil of Stars
I was looking up Von Neuman machines on Wikipedia a few weeks before christmas and saw these two books listed in the description. My memory is such that I had totally forgotten that I had already read the second one, so I ordered them both from Amazon's excellent used book sellers listings and was as usual pleased at how cheap they were (relative to buying sci fi books in Denmark).
Alas, I was less pleased with the stories. The first one takes place in the present when strange new geological features betray the arrival on Earth of alien life forms. Soon the authorities get involved and things go from bad to worse when the puny humans realise the Earth has been seeded with a binary doomsday device which is slowly orbiting the Earths core on seperate trajectories and once these intersect the Earth will be destroyed.
Thats essentially the first book in a nutshell. The humans wail and panic and some precious few are rescued by yet more aliens who arrive just too late to save Earth. I wasn't really impressed by the story, nor the story telling and I positively hated the recurring character who was dying of cancer as this kept reminding me of my mother.
The second book takes place a generation or so later when the children of the survivors are riding 'the ship of the law' to find and destroy the race who destroyed the Earth. The story goes, the aliens who arrived too late to save the Earth in the first book have since supplied humanity with a ship capable of exacting revenge on 'the killers' (who are never identified in either book) and this ship is manned by human children who witnessed the destruction of the Earth.
A lot of this second book is taken up with the boring dynamics of the crew as they go about this mission and its a long painful read when you just couldn't give a toss. By the time the humans had reached the worlds they believe are home to the alien bad guys I was tired of Greg Bear and about ready to curse his family for ten generations in either direction. Things picked up a bit once 'the Killers' were found, some moral ambiguity had been added to the mix, but it was too little too late. I finished the book with a sigh of relief.
There are quite a few problems with these books, not least my sated appetite for most sci fi idea's. Trouble is, I've seen it all before and usually by far better story tellers. Bear's aliens are just too much. Instead of simply pushing a huge fuck off asteroid in to the Earth they go to the sort of elaborate extremes and deceptions that usually characterize Bond villains, then they defend their own systems with all kinds of elaborate deceptions, even using numerous innocents as shields from which to hide behind.
The end of the story leaves one at a loss. The aliens who killed the Earth and the aliens who help the human children strike back are much the same, both using innocents as proxies against each other. Its conceivable they are one and the same race, no doubt this point is what Bear designed from the start, but the trouble is, he never gets around to actually making it, he merely leaves it hanging in the open so your not sure if this is what Bear is actualy saying. He sets up his storys to be some kind of epic tale and then ends with such a twee happily-ever-after that I wonder if he even understood the implications of his own story!
And its a piss poor example of Von Neuman machines if you ask me. Essentially they were nothing of the sort. Benfords machines are far better (and much scarier)