In The Armchair

The Forge of God

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on April 5, 2007

1229204149The Forge of God by Greg Bear is an interesting story about invasion by two alien species — by proxy.  The aliens send robots (intelligent self-replicating Von Neumann machines) to eat the world or protect selected humans.

While the premise is interesting and Bear has his moments, the problem with this book is that most of it is rather poor filling covering a lack of plot. Many writers have used this format successfully, notably Arthur C. Clarke. But to do so the author needs a talent for evocative writing and inventive prose. Bear’s prose doesn’t quite match up. His writing is strained. Bear’s idea of characterization is to write a couple of paragraphs describing each character’s clothes and job immediately after the character is introduced. He strains to find phrases that are evocative. He writes out his characters’ wistful thoughts in painstaking detail, but they don’t convey the right flavour. Bear’s attempts at evocative phrases (such as the eponymous “Forge of God”) are mechanical and unevocative. In short, Bear tried to build a novel out of a very simple idea, no plot, and uninteresting prose.

So, are his ideas novel? As I read this book, many of the ideas it contains are already pretty well-used in the science and sci-fi communities. Von Neumann machines have been known for a long time and are not novel.  Bear creates mysteries at various points in the book, but each mystery simply peters out and the solution is gratuitously provided in the narrative. No resolution by the characters in the book.

In the end, the idea of the novel is not bad, and even the dogged mechanical prose succeeds in telling a moderately interesting story. One just wishes it was developed better.

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