Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Final Now, by Gregory Benford

Contrast the story in the previous post, Dark Sanctuary, with The Final Now.  Thirty years later Benford is confident enough to tackle an end of the universe story, and take a stab at defining the meaning of the Creation.  Talk about ambitious.  It's not as easy to read as Dark Sanctuary, but deeply interesting for what the author is undertaking. The necessity of finitude is built into Creation, and creation cannot happen without its limit.  Otherwise, you get the logical end point of the Many Worlds thesis--everything possible has happened, an infinite number of times.  That last sentence was mine, it's not part of Benford's point. Came from a Scientific American article on Hugh Everett's theory. 

In any case, this is a must to read if you appreciate religion, philosophy and science.  And a valiant attempt to get one's arms around the whole thing.  Three stars.

Dark Sanctuary, by Gregory Benford

Dark Sanctuary is one of Benford's early efforts, recently posted.  It's an alien contact story, based on the premise that they have been in our solar system for a long time.  An asteroid prospector discovers them by way of a disabling laser flash, then figures out what they are based on sorting out the implications of their behavior.  It's just a little awkward, especially contrasted with later work, but it's a good read.  I liked it.  Two stars, almost three but not quite.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Nature Articles by Gregory Benford

Gregory Benford wrote several very short pieces for Nature a few years ago, and five of them are available on Free SF Online.  I am reviewing them as a group, as they go together well and it doesn't make sense to me to talk about them separately.  Here are the five:

These are all one-pagers in Nature's Futures section. They explore pretty standard hard SF themes, but stand out as very good examples of short fiction that's interesting and makes its point well.  Benford is a professor of physics and astronomy himself, and knows what would appeal to Nature readers. But these are good for anyone, and are thought-provoking in what they explore.  They are kind of dystopian, but that's OK, lots of SF is like that.  I would recommend them for nice quick hits that will make you think a bit.  3 stars.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Freudian Slip, by Franklin Abel

I decided to go back to an old habit and start at the beginning of the alphabet, since I didn't have anything else I wanted to read at the time.  The beginning of the alphabet at Free SF Online, that is, and by author.  And thus I read Franklin Abel's Freudian Slip.  Psychology isn't too common as a science backdrop, though Asimov's Foundation series has it at its core.  More specifically, perhaps, that old-fashioned psychoanalysis, decidedly unscientific as it is, gets used that way.  But Abel does so here, and he is entertaining to boot--a nice wry sense of humor.  We also get epistemological questions that come up again repeatedly--are we real, or just a part of someone's dream (if a computer, The Matrix--if a demon, then Piers Anthony's Xanth series has a reference.  I am too lazy now to give you a link, go Google them if you are curious)?  Anyway, a fun little read.  3 stars

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Dance of Time, by David Drake

The Dance of Time is the last entry in Drake's Belisarius series.  Again mostly a tactics story, it centers around the process of grinding the Malwa empire down and banishing its driving force.  That Belisarius will win is never in any real doubt.  The focus is more on tactics, and also the human relationships of the major characters Drake has given us throughout the series.  In the end, there's not a whole lot to see--his heroes are honorable to a fault, with any character flaws confined to a tendency to complain.  His characters were drawn pretty much from the beginning, so they don't grow much.

Where Drake shines is describing action, and that is mostly missing from the last two books.  They are OK as stories, but they are very geeky on large-scale low-tech conflicts, so unless you have an appreciation for those the stories will be pretty slow.  In the end, I'm not sorry I finished them, though, as Belisarius is a pretty appealing guy, fun to be around and read about.  Having a beer or four with him would be a hoot.  If you like Drake but have not gotten around to this series, I can recommend it.  Three stars for this one, slightly generously.