Top positive review
14 people found this helpful
Occupational Health issues for paleontologists??
on 17 February 2004
This is speculative fiction at its very best. Sawyer addresses fundamental questions with a clarity rarely approached by today's fiction writers. Why are there 'forces' in nature which exceed all logic? We've accepted gravity and electromagnetism for centuries. The strong and weak nuclear forces have been deduced. None of these forces truly make sense. They can be measured, but they can't be known. Atomic nuclei should fly apart and the issue of light as wave or particle remains unresolved. So why do these abnormal phenomena exist? Whell, it turns out that's what the Sprite used to make Nature work.
Sawyer has updated the old philosophy of Deism. Concerned by their inability to reconcile Biblical dogma with what was being observed in nature, 18th Century thinkers simply pushed the Judeo-Christian god further into the background. The god had wound up the clock of the universe, then sat back observing what transpired. Sawyer has adapted this idea to accommodate the findings of modern scientific revelations. It's an impressive achievement.
His research is visible on every page - either he has a stunning library, or owes a bag of money to the local public one. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Timothy Ferris are all here along with Gregory Paul and Earl Cox [Beyond Humanity - read it]. Even Terry Pratchett puts in an appearance. Sawyer's science is solid - it's clear he's no amateur. He doesn't have to make anything up - the realities of Nature are bizarre enough. He merely stirs in some fresh ideas about possible alien life forms and life styles. And what they might be like if the whole shebang was actually initiated by The Sprite instead of a random singularity.
There's some heavy irony and a few anomalies here. Occupational Health and Safety issues for a paleontologist? It used to be limited to rattlesnakes and mosquitoes. Jericho is facing the Great Mystery, but the issue of an afterlife remains unresolved. If The Goggle Box and radio broadcasts don't cover science well enough, why is Hollus a walking Cambridge Catalog of stellar bodies? The Wreeds and Forhilnors managed to escape a nuclear holocaust, but no mention is made of why they came so close. Do those two alien races have nations like on Earth? Jericho never thinks to ask Hollus for a universal translator of his own. He could have become President of the Earth. The Christian vandals at first appear to be a non-sequitur. They don't seem necessary in the story, but Sawyer has a subtle use for them. If humanity will become immortal and The Sprite really exists, paleontology will become irrelevant. It's an interesting prospect. These aren't flaws in the book, merely more thought experiments we should all consider performing in assessing real human values. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]