on 1 July 2014
Written in 1985, this novel is set in 2005, so readers today will have to make a few mental adjustments and add 20 to every date indicated, or it just falls apart. That's the drawback of setting sci-fi in the near future, with dates, instead of at some vague time in the far future.
By the time he wrote this Bear had hit the formula approach to novel construction. The prose is adequate and competent though nothing in here can be considered literature. Very straight forward, very long winded, hugely readable but ultimately unsatisfying. Shorter novelists of his era put a great deal more into many less words.
The science is just flim-flam. Starts off like its going to be a huge and intelligent revelation, but just backs itself into the usual corner of "so far advanced we can't comprehend it". At least he manages to sound like he knows what he's talking about.
The small details are the most interesting parts of the novel. Computer files are transfered in "memory blocks" -- not far off from flash drives. And 'slates' are used to interface with computers, just like tablets now. But the extrapolation of political and social ideologies falls far from what really happened; we have the hindsight of knowing what happened in the 20 years between the writing of the novel and the year 2005, Bear just guessed, and chose the easy option every time.
This is really an updated version of Arthur C Clarke's "The City and the Stars". Makes for an absorbing read, but in real terms the writing is pretty generic.
on 21 October 2012
In the continuing interregnum between Amazon orders, I decided to delve back in time to a book that left a lasting impression. I first read this book way back in 1987 when I was half my current age and, having cut my teeth on the works of the early masters of the genre, the contemporary freshness and variation on the Rama theme really fired my imagination.
At first, reading it again might not have been that great an idea. The cold-war politics with squeaky-clean liberally-minded Yanks and Russian state machinery automata seem now to be naïve caricatures and it is always a mistake to mention future dates; 2005 may have seemed a long time ahead back in 1987 but now… it’s all a bit Tomorrow’s World. Some of the technological references also give the book a very dated feel (e.g. booking processor time on the mainframe!), but Bear wasn’t too short of the mark predicting the near ubiquitous hand-held tablet (mind you, I think Star Trek got there first).
It’s an odd book, this one; the first half is slow and almost painfully dated but then as soon as Ser Olmy enters the narrative things really get going. The Frant, Jart & Talsit races and the Naderite / Geshel politics in the still futuristic Axis City as it rides the singularity down The Way are as original today as they were back then. The latter half of the book rattles along at a cracking pace and, getting to the end I’m glad that I read it again. So much so that I really fancy staying back in my long-lost youth and re-reading Eternity. That, however, is not going to happen until the next inter-Amazon order vacuum as the latest one has just arrived.
on 11 November 2014
Set in the near future, Earth is recovering from a limited nuclear war. But as a second, full-blown, war looms, an asteroid appears orbiting Earth. Scientists enter the hollowed out rock to discover chambers with cities, cities with parks and libraries, but no life, and in the libraries a shocking historians' description of the future war. And in the seventh chamber, the biggest shock of all - it goes on forever.
I think this is fabulous, hard Sci Fi. Incredible, but made credible by excellent writing and characters that you empathise with, whether current humans or the humans (from a post-apocolypse parallel universe) that built the asteriod and in a flourish of genius created the space-time warp that traverses universes. Even the aliens have character! Sure, the background international relations seem dated now, but I can handle that, and who knew any better, eh? Sounds an ominous tome of a book, but not at all - it's readable, enjoyable, fascinating and challenging all in one; easy to read in a few sittings and it rewards multiple readings.
on 24 April 2003
Although 'Blood Music' received more attention from the SF community , this is probably the book in which Bear set the standard for his subsequent work.
It's Hard SF/Big Science at its hardest, and in one sense can be seen as a 'Rendezvous with Rama' for the Nineteen Eighties.
Bear should also be applauded for his portrayal of female characters as in this and subsequent novels he places strong female characters centre-stage, in this case, Patricia Luis Vasquez, a young gifted physics student who is drafted in to solve the mysteries of the Stone and becomes important to the plans of all the factions involved.
The plot involves some complex physics and the concept of parallel universes.
It is always interesting to look at authors' views of the future once that future is past and gone. Written in 1985, Bear's future world has become a kind of 'alternate future' since perhaps no-one could have predicted that the abrupt fall of the USSR and the smashing down of the Berlin wall. Here, the USSR is still a superpower, and the Cold War very much alive.
Bear cleverly sets up the East/West ideological divides while Nuclear War destroys the Earth in the background, before bringing in the people of Earth's future. They live in Axis City, a vast mobile habitat which roams 'The Way' (the corridor which stretches along the infinity of parallel Universes) and which is itself divided along ideological lines between radical Geshels and orthodox Naderites.
It's a compelling and scientifically convincing novel, and one of Bear's best.
When I read a little about "Eon" I was intrigued... a hollowed-out asteroid, infinitely large on the inside, it sounded fascinating, and the size promised an epic scope.
And by and large, this is what you get. The book is full of interesting and largely sympathetic characters, with a supporting cast probably in the hundreds. The story is fascinating and I plan to read the two sequels soon.
However, sometimes Bear's descriptive passages become so technical that I actually found it hard to visualise what he was describing (eg: the first visit to the singularity). Also, some of the scientific theory is very complex, but thrown at you and then left for you to try and decipher. I admire authors who use serious science, but I am not ashamed to admit that sometimes I need a helping hand understanding it!
But - this (and the somewhat rushed ending) did not stop me enjoying the breathtaking scope of the mysterious Stone and the adventures of those exploring it. Good fun, but be ready to work at it.
This is a SF novel wide in scope although for me didn't quite hit the mark.
The basic plot concerns a large hollow asteroid that appears in Earth's orbit at a time of rising tension between the Soviets and the US. Exploration of the hollowed asteroid reveals a series of chamber with flora, weather systems and cities, and th politics of the exploration only serves to heighten US/Soviet tensions. The seventh chamber is apparently endless and contains the mysterious 'Way' which distorts space-time and acts as a portal with gates to access parallel universes. Interesting concepts thoughout but many have been done before in previous works, so for me not as groundbreaking as some suggest.
The weaknesses of the novel and the reason I didn't really warm to it for me are many. Firstly the novel is obviously a product of the cold-war age and now seems quite dated. This in itself is something the reader should take as a product of its time, first published in 1985, but in places reads like a cold war thriller set in space. The characterisation is rather poor with too many one and two dimensional characters throughout the novel and some very banal dialogue in places. The descriptions of the asteroid are quite difficult to follow and visualise with some completely incomprehensible psuedo-technological explanations. As the main characters journey down 'The Way' they encounter a future human civilisation which has evolved and developed technology beyond easy description, numerous alien beings, neomorphs, homomorphs and all sorts of other crazy incarnations. There is some difficult to follow political machinations relating to various factions such as the Naderites and Geshels. All round, too many ideas with too many incomprehensible explanations, and far too long. The writing really failed to grip me.
I can see why some people like the ideas and the detail, but for me this really clouded the story; less is more springs to mind. Taken as a whole it seemed a real mishmash of things, including Soviet/US conflict, badly sketched human characters and their relationships, weird aliens and future beings, and difficult to read descriptions. It may be appreciated by the fans of space opera, but I prefer a much punchier style of SF. I'm certainly not tempted to reach for the sequels.
on 20 November 2010
This hard science fiction novel tells the story of a large asteroid that suddenly appears in orbit around the earth, leading scientists to go and study it. What they discover is that the interior of the asteroid has been hollowed out into seven chambers by beings from elsewhere. In some of the chambers are abandoned cities. In one of these cities is a library with historical reports from the future that foretell cataclysm on the earth in the near future. And - the greatest mystery of all - the asteroid is bigger on the inside than the outside because the seventh chamber of the asteroid doesn't actually end: it goes on forever. To help to try to understand the Stone (what the asteroid comes to be called) and decipher its mysteries the US government's advisor to the President Judith Hoffman calls upon the services of young mathematical genius Patricia Vasquez whose mathematical theories just might hold the key to saving the earth. Assigned to look after her is Hoffman's chief administrator Garry Lanier, who has been struggling to cope with the Stone and the impossible things it contains. But unbeknownst to Garry and Patricia, the future is calling (quite literally), and it will change them - and all the book's characters - forever...
Comments: this book was a funny one. It was hard to put down because it has an excellent plot but the book was also flawed because it was hard to visualize much of the fantastical world that the author Bear was describing because the language used was so technical. Part of the enjoyment for me of science fiction like this is visualizing strange new worlds so this detracted quite a bit from my enjoyment of the book. On top of this the author introduces a lot of characters in the book without a lot of characterization so that sometimes it was hard to keep track of all the characters in the book and remember who was who. Finally - and this may sound paradoxical - towards the climax of the book the plot lost me completely and I couldn't really understand what I was reading, although it was still enjoyable to read. Plus points? Despite its at times overcomplexity the plot is undeniably very strong. Also the characters from the future are very interesting. Nonetheless - because of the book's flaws - I only give this book three stars. But read it, anyway. You may feel differently than I do.
on 22 April 2009
When the Stone arrives in a elongated orbit around Earth the first thought is of alien visitors. However, when NATO is the group to arrive and enter the asteroid they discover something even stranger - it was built by Humanity over 1000 years ago. After exploration it is revealed that there are seven chambers within the Stone, some containing cities, some machinery, but the seventh chamber - the Corridor - is the strangest of all as it is much larger than it should be - the end is yet to be found.
With growing hostilities on Earth between the west and Russia, the signs towards a nuclear holocaust are becoming more and more apparent. With this echoed on board the Stone with the Russian scientists kept in the dark about the more unique features found within it, a showdown is inevitable. Not only this, but the recorded history in the libraries of Thistledown City put the first strike at mere weeks.
While all this is going on a descendant of humanity, Olmy, has returned to Thistledown from Axis City, a million kilometers down the corridor, to observe the new arrivals. What he sees is Patricia Vasquez getting surprisingly closer to unraveling the secrets of both the sixth chamber with its machines and the apparently infinite corridor of the seventh chamber. Due to her intellect Ormy intervenes and takes her to Axis City where the rest of humanity now resides in its many forms. With ever impending crises facing both current and future generations, fate will lead each to their destiny, wherever it may be.
While I usually read much more recent releases, this is the second 'classic' SF book I've picked up this year. I've wanted to get a good look at what the pre-90's have to offer for a while now and I'm picking and choosing what I've heard good things about. Foundation was the first and it hit the spot, but unfortunately Eon only skimmed it. Why? Well the main reason is how dated the story feels - when written in the early 80's the year 2005 must have seemed a long way off, but being read from 2009 it just falls down at many hurdles.
Regardless of that there are many good points to Eon, most of which are exactly why I read and enjoy science fiction. The initial scenes where we start to see what is within the Stone are some of the best in the book. Exploring something that comes from the future of humanity is always good, but the way in which things are guarded and the details come through slowly help to build up the scene and the sense of awe. I loved these sections, the politics between the Americans, Russians and Chinese that go towards building some tense moments and exciting possibilities.
The characters, for me at least, were rather forgettable. Vasquez, the brilliant scientist, and Mirsky, the Russian commander, were the two that I consider the best success. Being able to look through the eyes of a soldier-turned-commander while his way of life is taken from him is a fascinating way to explore both character and situation. My only issue was that we didn't follow him enough, instead concentrating more on the issues of humanities descendants rather than the aftermath of nuclear war and being cut off from Earth. Speaking of focusing on humanities descendants - Vasquez is the one that helps add a human touch to this part of the story. Leaving loved ones on Earth to go to the Stone gives her motivation to find a way back by using the technology of the future.
All in all Eon is a fairly enjoyable novel. If I had read it at the time of release it would have been more enjoyable, although I know I should just take it at face value and enjoy the story it tells. This is one of the few books I've read that has given me this feeling and I just wish it hadn't - all the ingredients are there to make an excellent sci-fi novel.
on 14 December 2010
I first read this when I was 16 year old and it was the first book I ever bought with my own money. And having just reread it a little over 20 years later and my feelings for it have changed slightly. As a 16 year old I was blown away by the ideas, scope and possible future direction of humanity its only on my recent rereading that its flaws come into focus.
First off its a fantastic mystery that really works if you don't read the back of the book. There are some great pay-offs early on that are worth not knowing anything about the story, just to experience fresh. There is also a palpable sense that the world is on the edge of a nuclear holocaust which is exploited very well but the book really comes into its own in the first third when revealing the secrets of the Stone/Potato. The second third starts to let you into the secrets of the grater story and this is also where the flaws in the books structure come to the fore.
Firstly there are so many characters, seemingly one for every plot purpose. Meaning that characters turn up, do something and then vanish again only to be mentioned fleetingly later on. Also the political stereotypes of the Americans (who are all super liberal) as opposed to the ignorant peasant like Soviet brutes (who are all narrow minded outdoorsy types) is so obvious as to sometimes make it slightly humorous. Never more so when one of the Russians very obviously starts to think for himself and begins having trouble with his much more 'loyal' fellow Soviets.
There are some characters you want to know more about, namely Judith Hoffman and Pavel Mirsky, as they seems to be going places and then suddenly nothing happens with them. Pity.
That said the story goes along at a fairly brisk pace and doesn't seem to slow down to much despite all this. Greg Bear is adept at building a truly MASSIVE playground to allow his characters run around in and its a pity that Eon is not published along with Eternity; as its very obvious that this is the first part of the story he wanted to tell.
Its worth a look but do Bear in mind it was written right before the Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, meaning that the Soviets are very obviously the bad guys.
on 17 September 2008
Eon could have been a classic among the canon of epic SF. The basis of the story is immediately appealing, offering as it does the promise of mysteries and wonders. And initially the book delivers. The first quarter is full of exploration and discovery, taking the reader to exotic places and revealing fascinating technologies. But here's the `however'. Quite suddenly the book takes a different tack. We become drowned in scientific detail and political intrigue. There's so much of both that all the magic and mystery is battered out of the narrative. Obviously this is hard SF and a certain amount of scientific rigour is to be expected, but here it is taken to the nth degree. This has a negative effect, making it impossible for the reader (this one anyhow! - and I have a reasonably good understanding of physics) to visualise much of what is supposed to be happening. As for the political machinations, much of this could have been omitted without weakening the story - quite the opposite in fact.
In a nutshell, Bear seems to work on the principal that everything has to be fully explained and made to appear at least theoretically viable. This is simply not the case. Often a little mystery only partly resolved leaves the reader with a sense of anticipation, and forces them to exercise their own imagination. This approach actually makes the story more satisfying.
As for the ending: I know that Bear had a sequel in mind, but that does not excuse the rather hurried and dissatisfying conclusion.
In fairness Eon may well please many a true hard SF fan, but for me it's served mainly to reinforce my growing suspicion that this type of fiction is not for me.