The eighties was a great time for apocalyptic fiction. Reagan came to office in 1981 and was definitely a sabre-rattler. Scifi writers looked at his t...moreThe eighties was a great time for apocalyptic fiction. Reagan came to office in 1981 and was definitely a sabre-rattler. Scifi writers looked at his tough guy act and gazed into their crystal balls at the possible outcomes. Peace breaks out? Meh, not too interesting. But WW3 certainly had possibilities for drama, didn't it?
In The Peace War, Vinge looks at a variation on WW3. Instead of nuclear Armageddon, he has a defense contract discover a miracle technology that effectively gives them ultimate power.
The technology is the "bobble" (think "bottled up in a bubble"). The new masters of the universe can create massive silvery force-field bubbles to seal off any trouble spot — as small as an aircraft or as large as a city — and the problem is gone: poof, and suddenly there's a sphere that is impermeable and irreversible, reflecting all radiation and all force.
Of course, the ante bellum powers-that-be don't want this transfer of control, so the result is still apocalyptic, but with some interesting twists. One is that the trauma causes the population to crash to the extent that the new rulers never get the chance to really set up an all-encompassing administrative state. Some areas are carefully controlled, but others are left effectively outside of any control.
Central coastal California is one of these zones, and it is here that a relic scientist, still dreaming of the old technological glory days and wanting to fight The Authority, stumbles on a child prodigy that might become his apprentice and successor in the fight.
This book is pretty good for its post-semi-apocalypse. Vinge gave some serious thought to which parts of our society's technology would collapse and which stood a chance of surviving. Anyone can question his conclusion, but I like his blend. Cars are gone, since horses can do most of the same stuff with less economic infrastructure. Light bulbs can be replaced by candles and gas lamps. But the highest of the high-tech has no good fallback, and is still useful, right? So you get the curious suggestion that "tinkers" will be creating very advanced electronics and then hauling their products to their customers in a horse-drawn carriage.
Vinge does his usual job of coming up with middling-to-very innovative social and technological conditions for us to ponder. He also does his usual mediocre job of creating his cast of characters. His people are always complex and sympathetic enough to keep us from snickering too loud, but he really doesn't have the chops to develop fully realized humans. The heroes are just too clever and far too lucky, the villains are usually simplistically single-minded and arrogant instead of purely evil, and somehow just the right cast of characters happens to all be in the same place at the same time.
Definitely a fun and pretty quick read, but mostly forgettable. The "bobble" is certainly a memorable scifi concept, though. Proof? I was well over half the way through this book before I hit a scene that made me realize I read it way back when. (I remembered precisely how a character had two fingertips cut off, and how that event would later assist one of the other characters with closure.) The "bobbles" had stuck in my mind, but when I started this re-read I'd simply assumed they'd been use several times as a standard scifi trope.
Finally, this is something of a prequel and companion to both the novella The Ungoverned (available here) and Marooned in Realtime. Both take place in Vinge’s “bobble” universe; the latter book borrows one of the characters from The Peace War and one from The Ungoverned. Among the three works, however, The Peace War is the better book.
Back in 1982 when 2010: Odyssey Two was published I was in college, and my roommate was an obsessive reader of science fiction and fantasy. I probably...moreBack in 1982 when 2010: Odyssey Two was published I was in college, and my roommate was an obsessive reader of science fiction and fantasy. I probably read less than one-third of his throughput, but undoubtedly there are two hundred or so books that I don't recall, or that I remember only dimly when I am reminded of the titles or plot outlines.
Shortly after starting, I realized that this was one of them. Even though I had long since lost any grasp of the details, I knew could recall major events before I saw them again on the page.
The callow youth I was way back then probably would have given this a four-star or even five-star rating. But in the intervening years I've read too many novels that actually have real character development.
Ironically, just yesterday I finished a book that is almost diametrically opposite 2010. The Sparrow (by Mary Doria Russell, published in 1996) is a book full of complex personalities and their interactions, and even her thinnest characters were more fully fleshed than the best of Clarke's. On the other hand, the ideas that Clarke deals in make him one of the undisputed masters of the genre. (Russell's central story in The Sparrow is too cerebral—and too theological—to capture the heart of scifi).
Unfortunately, 2010 doesn't really bring anything new that hadn't been revealed in 2001. The new story is nice and fairly engaging, certainly. The story's climax is a bright and shiny idea, but nothing significant compared to the mysteries of the monolith and Bowman's transcendence from the original.
Even so, this almost thirty-year-old novel has held up well. The only false note—to me—was in the epilogue, which is date 20,001 BC. Two of the planets around Lucifer have, we infer, human presence. Clarke certainly should have heard of what would later become known as the technological singularity, since one of the creators of the idea had been a consultant to the production of 2001. The idea had been around for fifteen or more years by 1982, although it was not until 1993 that Vernor Vinge wrote the seminal paper the coined the term. For someone as optimistic about the rate of technological development as Clarke, I'm quite surprised he apparently thought homo sapiens would still be around as a species one thousand years hence, much less eighteen thousand years.
A good and easy book to read, overall. Not the important classic that 2001 is, though.
Waaayyyy too dark and misanthropic for my taste. Twain was just incredibly nasty here. Not a pleasant book. I’d recommend it only for those that to ex...moreWaaayyyy too dark and misanthropic for my taste. Twain was just incredibly nasty here. Not a pleasant book. I’d recommend it only for those that to examine some of the more unusual entries in Twain’s prodigious oeuvre. Really more of a one-star “I didn’t like it” book, ’cept it is Twain and intriguing for that reason.(less)
Between the Strokes of Night deals with the long-term experiences of humanity as a space-faring race. Its central contribution — not a spoiler, since...moreBetween the Strokes of Night deals with the long-term experiences of humanity as a space-faring race. Its central contribution — not a spoiler, since the opens with this exploration — is an intriguing twist on time and space travel, specifically that by adapting the human body to different temperatures, subjective experience can be changed to stretch a human lifespan over many centuries or millennia.
As far as traditional “hard” science fiction goes, Charles Sheffield does a pretty good job of nailing it. That is both good and bad, though. In his introduction, Sheffield makes the point that “if the science in the story is wrong or ridiculous, it’s not science fiction” and while “hard science fiction ought to be hard not because it’s hard to read, but because it’s hard to write,” he still believes that “there’s no reason not to try it the hard way.” The problem here is that Sheffield, like many science fiction traditionalists, don’t grant that endeavor to any sciences but the “hard” sciences (a foolishly misleading term, since the physical sciences are far “easier” in many ways than the others).
The opening of the book provides a painful illustration of why this is a weakness. Even though the story was updated in 2002 (just before the author’s death) to accommodate new developments in cosmology, he left in the hackneyed plot device “nuclear armageddon triggered by nations gone ‘mad’.” Several decades of sociological and psychological research have provided convincing evidence that Mutually-Assured Destruction (MAD, of course) worked — and continues to work — splendidly because of self-interested rationality.
While Sheffield’s characters are much more fleshed out than the cardboard characters of much science fiction, they still show very little psychological depth. Effectively absent are anything but superficially-portrayed anxieties, for example. The social interactions of his characters are very close to idealized androids who mimic human emotions without actually needing to rely on human relationships for stability. Over and over again, he has characters head off to a fate with little concern that they are leaving behind family, friends, or any semblance thereof.
If you enjoy science fiction that focuses tightly on getting physics correct and you can ignore implausibilities in other sciences, then this is an excellent book. Even if you find the latter troubling, it is still enjoyable, since Sheffield’s automatons mimic humanity fairly well — far better than many science fiction pioneers.
It's been ages since I read this, but it remains my favorite of all of Heinlein -- and actually the only of his non-juvenile novels that I would still...moreIt's been ages since I read this, but it remains my favorite of all of Heinlein -- and actually the only of his non-juvenile novels that I would still recommend (well, to anyone but SF Classics Completeists -- they have to read Stranger and maybe a few others).
But the only reason I'm adding this non-review is to point to an excellent analysis of the book that I just stumbled on. Mark Rosenfelder, who writes the essays at Zompist.com is quite insightful and clever: check out his article on Heinlein here. (His essay on Searle's Chinese Room is also excellent). (less)
In my recollection, this is one of the best science fiction stories written. I've read many since then, so maybe I'd change my mind —but then I'd read...moreIn my recollection, this is one of the best science fiction stories written. I've read many since then, so maybe I'd change my mind — but then I'd read many before this, too.
Not much of a review, but the only reason I'm really writing this is because I've now seen two different posts that recommend boycotting this book (and, presumably, everything else by the author) because of the author's extreme homophobic views.
Not a new dilemma, and one that doesn't have a simple answer. I realized long ago that I could listen to Frank Sinatra's music despite all the evidence indicating he was a jerk; I could enjoy classic Charlton Heston flicks despite his later presidency of the NRA; and my lack of enjoyment of Todd Rundgren's music really was about the music, not his political leanings.
So enjoy the novel, and if you enjoy it, marvel that such wondrous efforts can be produced by people who are as deeply flawed as the rest of us. If you don't want to support the author financially, read a library copy.
As far as I remember, the book does nothing that advances (or evinces) his homophobic world view, so reading it (or watching the movie late next year) will not affect the gay rights movement one way or the other.(less)