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Title: Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America
Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Year: 2009

A problem with reading science fiction is that, at least on the surface, many excellent books look like they contain nothing of interest, like they are ruminated versions of tales told a hundred times. Some of these books turn out to be truly excellent (I Am Legend, Oryx and Crake and The Road come to mind), but sadly, others turn out to be just that, a well-known concept or setting used again with no added spice and no added flavour. The only thing that it stirs within me is the question whether or not  I should continue reading so much in the genre.

This is what Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America is to me. It’s set in a low-tech, post-apocalyptic America where political intrigues has forced Julian Comstock, the nephew of the incumbent president, to hide out in the countryside. He there encounters Adam, the narrator, and they become good friends and experience lots of adventures together; being forcefully drafted into the army is only the beginning of their travails. The events of the story are interesting, but very few compared to the number of pages (over 400). It’s a solid setting, but I require more than that.

The novel is separated into a number of parts, and after reading the first one, I felt moderately excited. The writing style was solid and the action was good. However, everything faded away after the first part, and the remaining pages (perhaps two thirds) felt like a very, very long epilogue. That’s not good. I will go as far as to say that I think this book is outright bad. There are interesting bits, but they are few and far between.

Which is a pity, because I know that Wilson can write better books (see Spin, for instance). He has a style which might be good if he only used it to write more compelling stories (he usually gets the characters right). This novel is too long by far, and it’s also the worst I’ve read so far of the Hugo-Award nominees this year. Now only Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente remains before I can tell you which book should win the award. Reading Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America has at least made sure that I have one book less to take into consideration later.

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Title: Fooled by Randomness
Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Year: 2001

I like to play games of almost all kinds, and thus I’ve also played games with lots of different people. Some of them are like myself, but most of them are just casually interested in playing in a social environment. What has struck me many times is that some people, even people who should know better, are continuously fooled by randomness. They have spent years playing games involving random elements such as cards or dice, but still they fail to grasp even basic concepts relating to probability. You are not more likely to roll a six the fifth time if you rolled a six four times in a row, neither are you less likely to be dealt pocket aces in Texas Hold’em if you’ve already been dealt that once that evening. Still, many people act as if these statements were actually true.

In his book Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb expands this concept to all kinds of walks of life, from playing the stock market to buying insurance. Randomness plays a crucial role in all our lives and yet almost nobody understands the nature of randomness. the effects of this ignorance isn’t simply that people lose a few extra bets when they play poker, but also that they act irrationally in a wide variety of situations. People tend to make the world more understandable than it really is, they see patterns where there is just pure noise.

I’ll give you two examples of what kind of arguments are characteristic for this book:

IF you hear that an investor has had a positive investment record over the past twenty years, it’s easy to think that he must be a very savvy investor; people will probably buy books to see what it takes to be a winner or what traits the most successful traders share. A certain trader might indeed be successful because of the way he is as a person, but in Taleb’s mind, this is more likely to be a fallacy. The problem is that since there are so many investors, many people fail to take into consideration the number of investors who fail. Say that we have 30 000 investors and they all have 50% chance of making a profit in any given year. Note that skill is not involved here, this is pure chance. In fifteen years, there would statistically be approximately one investor left who has made a profit fifteen years in a row. The invostor didn’t do this because of skill, but simply because of luck. This is called the surivor bias and can be found in many other areas.

Another example is also related to the stock market, but first some background. If I propose a game of betting on die rolls, and I say that for every time you roll 1-5, you will have to give me one dollar, but for every time you roll a six, I have to give you ten dollars, you should happily accept this setup. In six rolls, you will give me one dollar five times, but I will give you ten dollar once, which means you make a profit. This is elementary, even though most people don’t seem to understand it. However, let’s go back to the stock market for an application which is not so obvious. Let’s pretend I’m an investor and you’re curious about what I think about the stock market.

“Do you think that the stock market will go up next week?”
“So I suppose you’re buying stocks then?”
“No, I’m going to sell.”

If this conversation leaves you perplexed, you haven’t really understoodd the example with the dice game above. If I believe that the stock market will go up next week (say 90% probability), but only a little bit (say 5%), I might be far better off selling if I think that there is small chance (the remaining 10%) that the market will collapse. Still, most people believe that if the market will probably go up, the more you buy, the better. This will invariably produce very successful investors, purely by chance. This is true for everything in life, even though the effect diminishes as the role of randomness becomes weaker (a doctor doesn’t rely heavily on luck, for instance).

These are only two examples in this book, there are many, many more and lots of anecdotes and stories relating to randomness. Some of them are in a financial context, but there are also numerous examples from everyday life. Most people (me included, of course) are continuously fooled by randomness. This is because there are psychological aspects of randomness that makes us prone to make mistakes. The author does not simply stay in the realm of pure reason and logic to explain why a certain decision is wrong, but he also makes an effort to use psychology and sociology to explain why we make these decisions anyway and even though we should know better. He does all this in an easy-going style which is pleasant to absorb. He’s even funny sometimes.

If you read this book, which I recommend that you do, you will still go on being fooled by randomness, that’s part of human nature and perhaps impossible (perhaps not even desirable) to avoid completely, but you will at least be more conscious of the decisions you are making and help you start thinking more clearly about the role of randomness in yours and other’s lives.

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Title: Wake
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Year: 2010

Being a young American girl just starting a new life in a Canadian city might be a complicated undertaking all in itself, but since Caitlin is blind, it becomes even more so. As we slowly get introduced to Caitlin’s life, which is full of interesting details about blindness that are obvious when mentioned but that sighted people seldom think of, two things start to happen. First, Caitlin is contacted by a scientist who claims he can wake Caitlin from her life-long blindness. Second, the reader becomes aware that there is another somewhere, which is also stirring in its sleep.

In my mind, Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (the second book I read by him, after Hominids)  is about three things: Caitlin, blindness and information/computer science. The first bit feels much like cover for the rest of the story and is little more than a framework, but as such, it works pretty well. Caitlin’s life is interesting, but only insofar as it carries the story forwards in other areas. Her blindness makes this very interesting, not least because being almost blind in one eye, I think I’ve thought about complete blindness more than most people.

The technology involved in giving her the sense of sight also have some interesting side effects. Since she needs the internet to download updates to her implant, lots of data is being shuffled around and she becomes aware that she can actually see the internet. Through a long process, aided by a Japanese scientist, the reader and Caitlin set out on a long voyage that covers areas such as cellular automata, artificial intelligence, information theory, linguistics, computational statistics and much more.

This journey is Sawyer’s forte. He is extremely good at describing these various topics and make them come together and form a meaningful plot. Even though I haven’t studied natural sciences since high school, I’m quite serious when I say that this book made me interested enough to spend hours reading articles on information theory and related topics. Having a smart but young main character is a good choice, because it allows the author to introduce these fairly complicated topics to a beginner without making the reader feel too stupid (although this is of course dependent on the education background of the reader).

In short, Wake combines a couple of really interesting themes. He weaves them together into what is the first part of a trilogy, and even though I truly hate series of books, it is likely I will read the remaining two books when they are published (the second is already out). However, I won’t go on reading because of the brilliant plot, because of Sawyer’s ability to make science come alive and become interesting. Just like this kind of science fiction is meant to do.

Why not read on for the plot, then? As I said, it works as a framework, but that’s really not enough for a really good novel. For instance, there is a complete lack of antagonists in the story, which means that apart form experiencing new things and talking about cool science, not much happens. There are various complications with Caitlin’s implant and some minor social events, but they all fade into the background, perhaps rightly so.

To sum things up, this book is partly science fiction at its best, but it also lacks vital parts to become a masterpiece. This book inspires and makes me want to know more, but rather about the topics rather than the story and the characters. Four snails seem to be a good compromise. Wake has been nominated to this year’s Hugo Award, so it remains to see what other people think about it even though my own mind is already settled.

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Title: Boneshaker
Author: Cherie Priest
Year: 2009

Gas masks, zeppelins, a walled-up Seattle, steam powered infernal machines, deadly gas, mechanical limbs, mad scientists, a Civil War that never ended; can a book with these ingredients be anything other than good?

No, of course it can’t. Boneshaker is not a perfect book and failing to be so will mean that I still favour China Miéville’s The City and the City for this year’s Hugo Award, but that doesn’t stop the book from being a good read in many ways.

Let me return to the setting for a bit, because in my opinion, this is what makes this book really good. I can’t be bothered to actually check dates, but the book takes place some ten years or so after the real American Civil War ended, although in the book it never did.

A mad but brilliant scientist living in Seattle design a machine to mine gold in Alaska, but during a test run of the machine (called the Boneshaker), something went horribly wrong and parts of downtown Seattle were destroyed. A poisonous gas also began to seep out from the tunnels dug by the Boneshaker and the people who didn’t evacuate died. Or so people thought.

When the son of the deceased scientist wants to prove that his father is innocent, he needs to enter the walled-up city and face its horrors. His mother follows shortly after to rescue him from dangers she knows about but which her sun can hardly imagine. Throughout the novel, they both strive to find what they look for in the scattered pockets of civilisation that still remains in the city.

I think Priest does a good job throughout the novel. It’s not brilliantly written, but it has glimmers of brilliance which is good enough considering that the setting is fascinating and the story entertaining enough. It’s perhaps not the kind of story that will merit awards for complexity or creativity, but it works well and manages to present the cool setting in a good light.

In short, this book is well worth reading for its setting and perhaps also for the story and the characters. I would have liked to seen a more interesting plot and more creative language to give this book all five snails, but four and a half is still really good and I will probably read more books by Cherie Priest.

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Title: Earth Abides
Author: George R. Stewart
Year: 1949

I think that if I had read a summary of Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, I would probably never have got around to reading the actual book. In essence, it’s a classic post-apocalyptic novel with few or no original ideas (this might be partly due to its age, but that merely explains why rather than solve the problem). It’s separated into three major parts, all focused on the same character, Ish, and how he survives and in some regards also thrives after the epidemic-induced catastrophe that has befallen mankind. This allows the author to cover a wider perspective than most similar books, which is both a blessing and a curse.

The problem with Earth Abides is that it too much a description of what happens after the end of civilisation as we know it, and not much of a novel. There are interesting smaller stories and some characters, but as a complete novel it doesn’t really work at all. Stewart’s language is adequate to describe what’s going on, but is far from good enough to be enjoyable on its own.

Still, I don’t think Earth Abides is as bad as it might have sounded up to this point in the review. The final part adds some interesting themes as Ish grows old and starts thinking about and re-evaluating his role in the new society. Here I found something genuinely interesting that added perhaps one snail to the overall rating. However, the book itself is too simple, too unoriginal to deserve more than two and a half snails.

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Title: What Dreams May Come
Author: Richard Matheson

Disclaimer: This review is written with 90% rage, 10% frustration and 0% balanced and carefully thought-out opinions. If you’re looking for a balanced review of What Dreams May Come, look elsewhere.

Recently, I’ve been trying to expand my reading with new authors rather than only reading ones I’m already familiar with or that have been recommended by friends with reliable preferences. Some of these have been successful (Paulo Bacigalupi), others not so much (Greg Bear, A.E. van Vogt). Still, after reading I Am Legend and being deeply impressed by the brutish and effective writing style, I thought that I’d give another of Richard Matheson’s novels a try, namely What Dreams May Come.

To my horror, the difference between these two books is the most significant I’ve ever encountered. I Am Legend was an entertaining and well-composed action novel with some deeper touches, What Dreams May Come is pure garbage. The only reason I finished the book was because I wanted to make sure that it was truly as horrible as it seemed after the first half. Also, since this is my first zero-snail rating ever, I wanted to make sure that there really wasn’t anything worthwhile in the entire novel.

The story in itself might look quite interesting at first glance: Chris, the main character and narrator, dies in a traffic accident, but contrary to his beliefs, there is an afterlife. After slowly adjusting to his new environment after some initial troubles with letting go of his beloved wife, who is still alive, he has to save her from the depths of hell. Why? In her grief, she committed suicide, which apparently is the greatest sin of all. This plot might have been interesting if let’s say Neil Gaiman had written it, because he might actually have done something original. Instead, Matheson strives to add as much spiritual nonsense as possible and somehow thinks that it should be relevant or even interesting.

The first half of the book is arguably the worst (there is, after all, many levels in hell) . After the accident, it takes Chris roughly half the book to get adjusted to his new situation. During all this time, the only thing that happens in the novel is him walking (or teleporting or whatever) around in paradise, saying “oh” and “ah” whenever something “cool” is explained to him. Which happens to be all the time.

Examples of “cool” things are:

  • You don’t need to eat in heaven
  • You don’t have to work in heaven but people do anyway
  • You can move by thought
  • You can communicate using telepathy
  • Heaven is very much the result of your own imagination (which is true for those in hell as well, who are there because they can’t escape their own outlook on the world and/or themselves).

If you think this is something a five-year-old with mediocre imagination could come up with, you would be right. I can’t even imagine what the point with all this is, because if it’s meant to impress or be fantastic, somebody needs to do a reality check, so to speak. This is just a collection of stereotypical spiritual nonsense rolled up into something that for some reason is called a novel. I don’t know who said that nobody wants to read the part when they explore heaven in Dante’s Divina Comedia, because all the interesting things happen in hell, but my utter distaste with the first part of this novel is based on the same idea. A story with boring descriptions and no plot is a bad idea.

In the second half, things start moving a little bit and it consists of Chris trying to rescue his princess from the hell she has created for herself. Wait a second, did someone just say that people created their own heavens and hells? Oh, I forgot to mention that there still seems to be arbitrary and yet absolute rules (and perhaps an implied ruler), stating that suicide, for whatever reason, is utterly condemnable and sentences the deceased to the worst of hells. His descent into hell is the only part of the novel which isn’t complete trash, but on the other hand, it’s also quite short.

Most of the second half of the novel is spent trying to convince his wife that she is dead and that he is dead to and that if she just believes him they can live on forever. Here, I foresaw a sugar sweet ending where they lived on happily ever after in paradise, so when Matheson suddenly makes it clear that she can’t enter heaven for some reason, I actually thought he and his book might be saved by some miraculous divine intervention. But no, instead, they are both going to be reincarnated, and since they are soul mates (a technical term, mind you, it doesn’t mean that they are good friends), they will find each other again in their next lives on Earth (in India, as it happens) and eventually they will live on happily ever after, or, as Matheson puts it:

There we will, I pray, remain and learn and grow until the time when we will rise together to the ultimate heights, changing in appearance but never in devotion, sharing the transcendent glory of our love through all eternity.

Now that I feel that the tsunami of rage is retreating, perhaps I should try some rational arguments. If Matheson had written an epic love story, modelled on Dante’s Divina Comedia with some New Age influences, that would have been fine. I probably wouldn’t have liked the book, but passages as the one I quoted above are sweet and I’m sure lots of people would appreciate a book filled with such nonsense. If he would have written a book about the afterlife and reincarnation, and labelled it as such (i.e. not as a novel), that would have been okay, too. The really serious problem here is that he tries to do both at the same time. It’s not possible to have a sentence quoted above and then follow it up with several pages of relatively technical discussions on how reincarnation works! This novel simply can’t decide if it’s a love epic or a dissection of the various functions of heaven and hell.

Even worse, although I hope this is a joke, is that the author claims that everything in the novel, except for the characters, is based on research and science, and that the reader is meant to check things up. What? Is he completely insane? The only part of this novel that might be based on anything vaguely resembling research is the characters, everything else is just pure fantasy (I like vivid imagination, but it shouldn’t be confused with science).

The author says that this is his most important book because it was able to console people and lessen their fear of death. That’s very cute, but I think that being comforted by this book is more like putting on a blindfold when falling from an airplane and hoping that it will somehow save you. Furthermore, the author urges us to reevaluate our lives, because since everything is true in this novel, we all should fear what will happen to us in the afterlife. I don’t mind religious themes in books (I like C.S. Lewis a lot, for instance), but if you want to write propaganda, please do it well.

If I come to a personal hell after I die, it will consist of sitting down and being forced to read this novel over and over, but since the only thing in my life I seriously regret so far is reading the novel in the first place, I will be caught in an endless, vicious circle and will be tormented to the end of time. Fortunately for me, the ideas in this novel, along with the story and the presentation, is complete garbage and I consider it very unlikely that they will add more than a momentary lapse of the ability to write rational reviews. I will never dare to watch the movie, but to keep sane I hope it was a lot better (or at least a lot shorter) than the novel. Don’t read What Dreams May Come, even if your life depends on it.

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Title: I Am Legend
Author: Richard Matheson

Some people think that there is something dark, mysterious and romantic with people who live off other people’s blood. Personally, I’ve never felt the slightest attraction to the concept of vampires (possibly with the exception of Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett); I find them boring and often bound by too many clichés, and I’m usually more scared by the fans of this genre of fiction rather than the stories themselves. So why read I Am Legend, which at least by some is viewed as one of the more important works in the genre, popularising the concept of an apocalypse brought about a vampire/zombie generating epidemic. I decided to have a look mostly because the book was quite short and I had heard some good words about Richard Matheson, the author.

Even though this books was written more than fifty years ago, it still manages to deliver something that a variety of films and other products (such as role-playing games) have been unable to produce, namely a story with vampires I think is worthwhile. The plot is straightforward, fast-paced and quite entertaining. Matheson’s use of black humour to tell the story of a lone man trying to survive in a world of vampires makes me smile often, but without making the book frivolous or comical in itself; it’s still apocalypse and it’s still a tragedy.

I like this book a lot, mostly because of the fluency with which the story is told and the spectrum of emotions and effects the author is able to induce in me as a reader. Admittedly, the plot itself is mediocre and actually not very important, but this fails to have an major impact on my perception of the book. In other words, the fight against the horde of vampires is there, but my dislike for the creatures doesn’t make the book worse (it goes without saying that it doesn’t make the book better either, but still). The fact that the novel is only 160 pages long and very few passages feel long-winded and/or further improves the overall impression. I didn’t expect this much, but I’m prepare to read more of Richard Matheson’s books. This one receives an astounding four and a half snails!

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Title: The World of Null-A
Author: A.E. van Vogt
Year: 1948

Reader, in your hands, you hold one of the most controversial and successful novels in the whole of science-fiction literature.

Thus A.E. van Vogt opens his preface to this revised edition of his allegedly monumental masterpiece, the World of Null A. He introduces us to the successes and some of the feeble and useless attempts to destroy his greatness. He explains some of the core concepts of general semantics (such as that the map is not the territory and other abstractions). Then he says:

I think I presented the facts of general semantics so well and so skillfully in Null A and its sequel that the readers thought that was all I should be doing. But truth is that I, the author, saw a deeper paradox.

This must be the worst imaginable way of introducing a novel. I think I’m quite well-read in the area of science fiction and though it’s true that A.E. van Vogt is quite well-known, I think it’s an outright lie to say that this book is generally seen as “one of the most controversial and successful novels in the whole of science fiction literature”, even taken into account that the book was written sixty years ago. Since it’s the author himself who says this, I find this statement boastful, despicable and made me dislike the book and the author even before I started reading the story itself.

In addition to this, after I’ve read this story about a man who strives to understand who he is (he participates in a game to choose the next leader of the world, but he soon finds out that he isn’t who he think he is), and all along hoping that general semantics would be made clear and/or relevant, I still have no clue either to why the book is deemed to be successful or why any reader thought that he was good at explaining anything. If I don’t understand what’s going on after reading 200 pages, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad (it might just be my being obtuse), but it’s definitely not the pinnacle of explanatory and illuminating writing.

Still, I’ll try to disregard my contempt for the foreword and remove at least one layer of subjectivity. The author isn’t incompetent and it’s clear that he has an original idea and tries to write a novel about it (which is more than can be said Greg Bear‘s The Forge of God, which has nothing in common with the World of Null A except that I read one after the other). The style is quite fast-paced, but without anything that will make me remember either the characters or the story.

Perhaps I’m missing something, perhaps sixty years have showed that this novel isn’t as good as some people once thought it was, but I really don’t understand either the book or why it should be considered great (or even worthwhile the effort). Damon Knight, who subsequently went on to a successful writer’s career, wrote that “Van Vogt is not a giant as often maintained. He’s only a pygmy using a giant typewriter.” I don’t think it will take me any closer to stardom, but I’m prepared to side with Knight on this. The World of Null A gets one and a half snail for competent writing and something which might have been a good idea. As a lesson for other authors, don’t ever write a foreword praising yourself and your accomplishments to the hills, regardless of how highly you think of yourself.

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Title: The Windup Girl
Author: Paulo Bacigalupi
Year: 2005

Take Bangkok, brimming with a multitude of different cultures and the capital of Thailand, a monarchy with complicated political structure, and put it through a genetically engineered apocalypse which has left most of the world in chaos and starvation, but where Thailand is still an island of relative calm in South-East Asia, much thanks to an odd mixture of advanced bio-engineering and old-style, steam punk reminiscent technology. The result is the Windup Girl and the man responsible for the thought-experiment is Paulo Bacigalupi.

Even though I consider the setting described in the previous paragraph to be interesting enough to read almost regardless of anything else, a novel requires a more personal approach and very seldom can it rely entirely on setting. The Windup Girl takes its name from one of the main characters, a genetically engineered human being produced by the secluded state of Japan, created to please and to be subservient. Regarded as an animal, if not a thing, she still harbours feelings intimately human, and thus struggles to free herself from her genetic heritage as well as her training, thus adding a touching tale about the intertwined factors of heritage, training and environment.

This is Paulo Bacigalupi’s debut novel and as such it is extremely good. There are no obvious flaws or major glitches that a more experienced author would have been able to avoid. However, I think it’s clear that Bacigalupi has some polishing to do, because there are minor flaws and imperfections that interrupts the otherwise fascinating tale. For instance, he’s prone to repeat similes and metaphors or just dwell on the same kind of details again. Let me give you an example; the windup’s skin is impeccably beautiful, which unfortunately means that it can’t transport heat very effective, leaving the girl vulnerable to overheating. This is a really neat detail, but it gets tedious to hear about it every time she moves. A more experienced author would realise that the idea is fabulous without employing it to excessively.

The story is neat and well thought-out, although it isn’t magical in an sense of the word. It’s good enough to suffice as a pretext for showing a really cool setting and occasionally even surpasses the ingenuity of the surroundings. A tendency to focus on two many characters make the book a little bit longer than it should have been, but this is not a serious flaw.

In all, this book is awesome, not only in itself, but also because of what I hope it means for the future. I don’t mean to say that I think an apocalypse derived from genetic engineering gone wrong is a good idea, but I do hope that the future will bring more books from Paulo Bacigalupi’s hand and that they will be as rich in ideas as this one, but perhaps presented in a slightly more refined way. This is still a very good book and I give four snails to the Windup Girl.

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Title: The Forge of God
Author: Greg Bear
Year: 1987

Space aliens invading the Earth has been a major theme in science fiction since the nineteenth century, and the number of books and films with this as the major plot device is innumerable. So, is it still possible to add something significant to this huge body of creativity? Yes, of course it is, but it’s exceedingly difficult, and I can think of only two ways: either you write something which has been written before, but you do it a lot better; or, perhaps more likely, you come up with a unique idea and actually manage to write something original.

Reading a plot introduction to Greg Bear’s The Forge of God, I thought that the book would sort into either of the above mentioned categories. Being nominated both for a Hugo and a Nebula for best novel in 1988, it should at least make a good attempt at being fantastic, or at least readable. Sadly, after reading two thirds of the book and still with no originality in sight, I gave up. I went on to read a synopsis to see how the story would end, to see if it looked worthwhile to continue. It didn’t. This is the first book I’ve given up reading since I was a kid.

In other words, this is the dullest book I’ve read in quite a while. It is also one of the worst, but not because the author is inept, but rather because he just completely fails to engage my interest. It offers nothing new whatsoever, not even a little bit. It does what others have done before and in a way I’ve seen too many times. The story starts of promisingly with an alien being found in the desert, telling the humans that it’s sorry, because it’s got bad news: the Earth will shortly be destroyed. However, more signs of alien activity are found and the situations grows more and more complicated with stories contradicting each other. Is this a plan to take over the Earth by confusing the inhabitants to death? It is a unique take on the invasion theme, but the problem is that Bear’s writing is slow, dull and focuses entirely on the wrong things.

The Forge of God is about the invasion more than the people in the story, which would have been acceptable if the invasion was interesting. Since it isn’t, the book collapses into a black hole that consumes time but gives nothing back to the reader. I have better things to do with my time than reading this. I had plans to read Moving Mars by the same author, and I might actually still do it, because if the concept is cool enough, I think Greg Bear might make it worthwhile (in other words, I don’t think he’s incompetent per se, just that this book is really not for me). With the Forge of God, he failed utterly and deserves no more than one snail. If you want to read worthwhile invasion novels, check out War of the Worlds, Spin or The Puppet Masters, none of them brilliant, but each with its own merits.

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