Friday, July 4, 2014

The Goliath Stone

Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington
Tor, 2013 (a review copy was gently provided to me by Tor)
Size: Average (my hardcover copy has 314 pages)
Theme: Nanotechnology
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Toby Glyer
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: UNSURE

The concept behind this book appears to be quite simple: a large asteroid is on its way to earth, with its course continuously shifting so that it seems increasingly likely that it will collide. Several years ago, nanotechnology had reached a progress level that a mission was setup to send nanomachines to harvest a small asteroid. In practical terms, the plan was to divert its course so that it would orbit earth and could be mined. However, all contact was lost with the mission, which was abandoned. It appears now that maybe the nanomachines are involved in the recent change in course of the large asteroid. The question is whether they are still trying to perform their initial goal, or whether they are aiming it to destroy earth.

This is not a particularly innovative idea, nor is most of what takes place during the relatively short story. Although I enjoyed it as a light read, the novel is sort of a blunder. In fact, given Niven’s reputation (note I have not yet read the Ringworld acclaimed series, although it is in my to-read pile), I was expecting much more. Characters are shallow and one-dimensional, one of them featuring the archetype of superhuman intellect and capabilities. Subtle hints at the authors’ political views are pressed into the story. The main characters actually did not have to exist, as most of the events would have happened the same without them; I can hardly remember a book where the characters do not influence the result (earth’s destruction or not) in any way. It is also surprising how nobody really stresses out from the fact that the world is about to be destroyed, so apparently all those movies and books where people panic and riot are just pessimistic. What I enjoyed the least was the annoying and impossible to believe dialogues full of witty remarks and comebacks, full to the brim with what I guess the authors must have thought were clever references to sci-fi literature. Curiously, the story ends up being as much on the asteroid as on how the main characters are involved in nanotechnology reshaping humanity, again in an excessive and unfeasible manner.

I’m going to have to call this casual over-the-counter literature, and definitely not to be mentioned in the records of sci-fi. Once you take it as something just to entertain you for a few hours, and to be forgotten afterwards, it’s fine. Just do not have higher expectations than that.

*** Spoiler Alert ***
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

As one could predict, all is well in the end, as the tiny machines are eager to please their human creators, and bring the asteroid to a nice orbit, then leaving to go fetch another one. No suspense at all, since this was the only possible outcome when the main characters are busy having sex all the time, which they find to be the best way to take advantage of their rejuvenated bodies, rather than actually attempting to do something about the looming disaster.

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