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Great Sky River (Galactic Center) [Mass Market Paperback]

Gregory Benford
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug 2004 Galactic Center (Book 3)
The first part of the "Galactic Centre" sequence. It introduces a world of the distant future, where a ragged remnant of humanity battles to survive against a cruel and all-encompassing civilization of thinking machines. The author won both the Nebula and Campbell Awards for "Timescape".
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Aspect; Reprint edition (Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446611557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446611558
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 2.5 x 17.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,543,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic science fiction saga 2 Jun 2002
By A Customer
The Bishop family fight for their very existence on Snowgalde against the technological superiority of the Mechs, an alien culture who view humans as no more than rats in the walls.
This is an impressive piece of science fiction; full of fresh ideas and complex plots and at the same time displays a less-then-perfect view of the future of mankind. Here on Snowglade man is not the conqueror and his entire species is caught up in events far larger than the Bishop family can even begin to imagine.
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5.0 out of 5 stars best in the series 17 Aug 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the third in Benford's 6-book series, long after the Earth has ceased to exist and humans are spread across the galaxy. There is an entirely new list of protagonists, in particular Killeen, who is a kind of ne'er-do-well among the hunter-gatherers trying desperately to survive. The drama is extremely good, as it was in the previous volume, with unimaginable hazards such as the new adversary, the Mantis, a robot of "distributed intelligence" that is impossible to kill and has its own artistic notions about hunting humans. The vision is original, though the evolutionary questions are fairly clear.

Most pleasing is the evolution of Killeen, who grows into a leader after the beloved natural leader, Fanny, is killed and he is forced to confront what has become of her as well as the desperate leader of a separate band who is willing to submit to machine domination like a pet. Also very fun in this is the adaptation of humans to certain machine technologies, including exchangeable chips that are recorded from fatally wounded humans, who have their particular skills or perspectives. It adds up to an interesting society with exceptional survival skills that gains its release from the planet for the next set of adventures.

Unfortunately, this is the high point of the series, with 3 more much less successful volumes to follow. I was riveted by this adventure story, by the many clues regarding the grand design of what is going on with humanity, and the tantalizing reference to Nigel Walmsley, who does not appear in this volume and is presumed dead.

Recommended with enthusiasm.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humans In Decline 10 Sep 2005
By Arthur P. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the third in Benford's "Galactic Center" series, and the first of the novels to actually merit the name. The other books are "In the Ocean of Night" (1977) and "Across the Sea of Suns" (1984), set in the near future not far from Earth, and "Tides of Light" (1989), "Furious Gulf" (1994), and "Sailing Bright Eternity" (1995) set, as is this one, about 30,000 years later.

This is a time when humans have settled the central regions of the galaxy and have entered a period of decline forced on them by mechanical intelligences, robots who long preceded them. The middle two novels tell the story from the point of view of the

man Killeen Bishop, starting on the planet "Snowglade" where humans (heavily genetically adapted and plugged in to electronic devices) live as scavengers among mechanical constructions, a world near the galactic black hole's accretion disk. Benford's treatment of the human augmentations as something they take for granted and use with considerable skill is an interesting adaptation of "cyberpunk" ideas, though he does expend many words in the novel discussing the technical details.

Most of the machines ignore the humans or treat them as simple nuisances, but the terrifying, powerful and seemingly indestructible "Mantis" pursues and haunts the Bishop family from this novel to the end of the series, ostensibly trying to understand humans better, and in particular why they are so horrified by its sense of "art".

Another entity appears in this third novel and remains through the end - a "magnetic" life-form of vast extent, with roots in the black hole accretion disk and strands reaching to nearby stars. Benford's physics blends with poetry in describing this and many other wonders he imagines for the cosmos.

The character development here is reasonably well-done, though not as convincing as in the later "Furious Gulf". Killeen starts out as a sharp but unreliable member of the clan, growing and maturing as tragedy surrounds him. Benford seems to have a relatively limited range of primary characters: once again Killeen is the rebel, suspicious of authority and the good intentions of others, yet he ends up leading a band toward new horizons at the end.

It would have been more satisfying to have other books spanning the vast gap between the end of the second novel and the beginning of this one - rather that time period appears in flashbacks from the electronic "aspects" the humans carry, always showing nostalgia for times past. This leaves the novels rather open-ended (many threads not nicely cloesd) - but life is like that too. The breadth of Benford's scientifically plausible imagination in these novels is amazing in itself; read these novels to gain a perspective on life in the universe and what a sufficiently advanced civilization might do with a galaxy such as our own.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Science Fiction 19 Jan 2009
By AverageReviewer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I reviewed in the Ocean of Night and Great Sky River in the series and felt that from these two reviews, the potential buyer can get most of what I think regarding the entire series. The whole series gets 5 stars but the flavor of the first book is very different from the other 5, with the last 4 having the most consistent story and the last book of the series bringing things full circle.

Great Sky River was the first book in the Galactic Center series I read back in 1987 when it was first released. I must say that Benford introduced me to the world of hard science fiction bringing to life and showing me landscapes of the center of the galaxy that before where flat and lifeless concepts buried in science books at the library.

Great Sky River is a tale of survival for a small group of humans who use tremendously advanced technology to survive in a location where humanity was perhaps not engineered to exist - the center of the galaxy. All throughout the series, there is this oppressing weight that the sky is falling (which it is) as a vast machine empire has crushed humanity everytime that humanity has started to stand up and become a threat/challenger to the machines but the machines are never able to eliminate humanity, some always remain - and this is the story of one group of people who literally fight for survival.

Albeit, Benford shows us a world where humanity as a race has peaked and which is is terminal decline at the relentless onslaught of an ancient and powerful machine civilization that controls most of the resource rich central part of the galaxy and its giant black hole.

*** Generic Review of Series ***
Collectively, this series of books written by Gregory Benford are known as the Galactic Center Saga. In order the books are:

1) In the Ocean of Night - Near Future
2) Across the Sea of Suns - Few hundred years from Now Future

--- Big Break in Time

3) Great Sky River - Distant Future
4) Tides of Light - Distant Future
5) Furious Gulf - Distant Future
6) Sailing Bright Eternity - Distant Future

The series is an early monument to epic science fiction on a grand scale across space and time. The prevailing concept of the books is that of how life in all its forms is resilient and how life adapts and evolves in response to different circumstances. The series also tells the story of how sometimes there is intense competition for resources and how sometimes groups seek to protect their resources. And finally, the series talks about how when things go out of balance - like human overexpansion - something happens in nature that brings back balance --- so in a large sense, the series is a cautionary tale although Benford skillfully makes out the Machine empire as the out of balance force that has to be brought back into normality but if you go back to the original book, it is humanity that is out of balance with earth.

Reading the entire series was a voyage of discovery for me. So, I first started reading the series with the third book titled, Great Sky River. The title, as best as I can remember, is a metaphorical label for the arms of the Milky Way galaxy which "flow" to the center of the galaxy. I found Great Sky River to be very entertaining fast paced, hard science fiction telling the story of survival by a few humans set against the backdrop of the wonders of the center of the galaxy in some far distant future. In this far future age, humanity civilization has already peaked and has begun a long decline and the heros struggle to survive in this far future world dominated by a vast machine civilization that dominates the central portion of the galaxy - a machine civilization that considers humans little more than a pest infestation (humans are cockroaches or rats, in this future world)....albeit the machines do consider humans interesting in some respects. So overall, a bit of a bleak world. Mind you, the machines consider interesting for a particular reason that I won't divulge for fear of being a spoiler but overall, the author plays with a whole plethora of concepts in a very intertaining fashion.

The last 3 books continue with the setting of Great Sky River (the center of the galaxy) and characters from Great Sky River. The books explore the human condition, the grandness of our universe, life, and a whole slew of other things. The last three books, particularly the last two, begin to tie in the first two books from the series and gives you the sense of the vastness of the galactic saga with the final book buttoning up everything in a rather interesting fashion.

After reading the last four series of the books and wanting more, I read that there were two precursor books. I read Across the Sea of Suns next which I found tremendously enjoyable. Across the Sea of Suns is the book which starts to set things in motion from a galactic center saga standpoint with an explanation of some core tenets for the following final four books in the series. Across the Sea of Suns is a mystery story first and foremost - which is kindof fun to read although a bit depressing because it is here that you first come to see the invisible machine empire and how powerless humanity is to do anything against them. Imagine, if some unseen alien force started sending meteors to pommel earth or send diseases our way etc - what could we do? Think of the movie Cloverfield, we would be virtually defenseless as a race against an attack like that.

Back to the first two books. In my mind, In the Ocean of Night, has a near future setting and gives me the impression of humanity being all alone in the Universe and entirely engrossed in our own petty little lives and there is talk of how we are ravaging our environment and how we are out of balance. The book plays out against the backdrop of the 1960s alternative lifestyles all embued with some of the behavior that has helped us survive as a species. I don't want to give away the story in the review so just bear in mind that this first installment of the series is very focused on the peoples, the cultures, and the society of the planet, including the interpersonal relationships of many characters. Intertwined into the book, you get the science fiction backdrop that we are not alone and you get some glimpses of a broader world.

So the prevaling theme is that of balance, the persistence of life, competition - all set against the backdrop of hard science fiction that becomes harder as you delve deeper into the series. Never as hard as Stephen Baxter who I think is phenomenal but hard science fiction nontheless.

If you don't like slow social science fiction, you might want to skip In the Ocean of Night and go straight to Across the Sea of Suns. If you want the precursor material to Great Sky River without the interhuman drama, you can read the short story on the 1972 issue of "IF" magazine - if you can find it. If you just want the fun and excitement of a fast paced hard sci fi series, start with Great Sky River and take it from there.

Overall, In the Ocean of Night is required reading but just bear in mind that its richer from a character development standpoint and not true hard sci fi like most of the rest of the series.

Hope this helps you navigate the Galactic Center Saga - I really enjoyed the entire series when I was growing up.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Mesmerizing 13 May 2006
By Paul Skogstrom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Over the last 20 years or so I've attempted to read all of the great Sci-Fi. The first time I read this book was about 15 years ago and at that time I felt that it was the best Sci-Fi novel that I have ever read. Clarke, Hebert, Asimov, Card, none of them have ever written as original and compelling a story as this one. I recently read it again and it was just as enthralling as the first time. Buy this book!

The jargon is a little challenging, but it adds to the authenticity of the novel. Once you get the feel for it, will seem natural.

The plot is flawless. Man has populated the stars and in doing so, crossed paths with a race that is so advanced, man hardly rates a second look. Unfortunately, this species requires a dry, almost waterless world, so as a result, humans find themselves on the brink of extermination at the... hands?, of a heartless, ruthless species.

Constantly on the run, reduced to a mere vestige of their great past, humanity is again a tribal unit of hunter/gatherers, scraping out an existence beneath the... radar?, forced to utilize the alien technology to their own ends, man searches for hope on the edge of extinction.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting read 8 Aug 2012
By Corwin J. Joy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was the first book in the series I ever read and probably my favorite. I picked this up about 10 years ago and it gave me nightmares for years so I recently decided to re-read it. The background is a small group of humans on a planet which has gone "mech". To try and survive, humans increasingly replaced their bodies with robot parts. It's not enough: the machines are faster, smarter, and their motivations largely incomprehensible as they hunt the survivors down. Eventually, they come to understand part of the reason they are being hunted, cut to pieces, and brain dumped. It's not because humans are a threat; they are shown an art museum full of "deconstructed" and "reinterpreted" primitive human components where they add to the collection nicely. This was a very believable "hard sci-fi" novel which laid out a terrifying and bleak possible future. I also liked the way the "mechs" were made to feel genuinely alien and incomprehensible. In contrast to some other reviewers, I liked that the survivors had their own dialect and strange way of talking, I felt it added to the realism. Overall I would highly recommend it as a memorable and interesting read (though I was less impressed with the rest of the series). As a stand-alone novel I think this holds up well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Tale 30 Dec 2007
By L. J. McAdams - Published on Amazon.com
I had always strayed away from trying Benford because of the dreaded "hard" science fiction tag. Mind, I always end up loving authors who get stuck with that tag from Alistair Reynolds to Benford's frequent writing partner David Brin. However, the term always makes the writers sound so scary and lead you to believe that you'll be reading more textbook science than characterization and plot.

Nothing could be further from the truth with Great Sky River! The book is full of examination about what it means to be human through a very strong, very human, protagonist. A lot of the ideas in this book are actually along the lines of what later was labeled "Cyberpunk" in terms of gritty survival crossed with computer-human interface tech that changes the nature of what we are as people (in this case allowing additional personalities into our head via chips called aspects.) Of course Cyberpunk was a near-future genre, and this is a very far-future setting, but there are some striking similarities. If it had been written later, it would have been called "post-Cyberpunk".
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