Saturday, March 05, 2011

Greg Bear - Eon

Eon - Classic SF "Big Dumb Object"
Greg Bear's classic science fiction novel Eon, is seen as one of the all time great novels of that genre. Part of its reputation must rest on the imaginative idea at the heart of the story. Just before the book begins, a large asteroid (which turns out to be an exact copy of Juno which is still orbiting around the sun) appears and enters orbit around Earth. Travels to the planet discover it has been artificially hollowed out and inside there are various enormous chambers, filled with relics of a civilisation. The beings who inhabited this civilisation turn out to be human and one of the chambers turns out to be infinite in size.

So we have the setting for science fiction of the grandest order. Perhaps what also helped turn Eon into one of the great novels was the political backdrop to the tale. Written in the mid 1980s, Earth is still very much separated into two camps - East and West. The US dominated side gets to the asteroid first and gives the Warsaw Pact limited access. As time progresses, we learn that the planetoid comes from an alternate universe, or rather an alternate future, and it is in part the coming war between East and West that has led to its arrival in our own universe.

This allows Greg Bear to play around with some interesting concepts - for instance how does knowing what you might do in the future impact upon what you actually do. Forearmed with this knowledge, can you change the timeline you are in.

Its these sort of ideas that make the novel very readable. Sadly the characterisations of the people within the novel let it down - particular as Bear has some quite clunky dialogue between humans in places. As with so many of his fellow science fiction authors, Bear seems better at describing spaceships docking with each other than two humans making love.

Eon is also limited by the time it is set. The Warsaw Pact countries didn't last much beyond a few years after the book was first published and this makes some of his future history particularly unbelievable. Sadly, once again, being a scientific visionary doesn't necessarily mean you can see even a few years into the real future. Oddly enough some science fiction written many years ago, dates less than some novels set during specific periods of human history. The cold war seems to date novels (and not just SF) far more than other events.

But Eon is an interesting book. I particularly liked that Bear didn't simply go for a happy ending. It would be too tempting, when your key characters know the future, to allow humanity to escape their fate. I did notice, what I thought was one large plot hole, but that's probably because I spend too much time worrying about alternate universes. Having said that, a look at the plot descriptions for the various sequels doesn't inspire me. Perhaps some of my readers might want to suggest whether the follow-up novels are worth the effort.

1 comment:

Cthulberg said...

Coincidentally I am reading 'Eon' again now for ummm... what must be the fifth or sixth time and I plan to follow it with 'Eternity'. 'Legacy' is a standalone volume and knowing more about Ser Olmy is not really required to understand that book.

I like Eon/Eternity because of the way the science is described more than any reference to petty squabbles among Russians and Americans. It's the sheer volume and scope of ideacraft which draws me to these books again and again.

I'd recommend 'Eternity', but if you, as you say, have problems looking past the political stuff in 'Eon' perhaps it is not for you. It's even more expansive and ambitious, while touching more on spiritual existance than its predecessor. Also more information on the Jart-species is revealed which is pretty exciting. To me.

A nice post you made here though!