Fiction Reviews


(2000) Gregory Benford, Orbit, pbk, 6.99, 386pp, ISBN 1-84149-017 2

Astronomers detect a black hole racing towards the Earth, but it is decelerating and black holes don't do that sort of thing, do they? Then a message comes, "I desire converse," and we are right into a first contact scenario... Eater furthers one of Benford's recurring themes, that of black holes' intricate magnetic fields to amount to far more than an inanimate phenomena. Such a notion is not to be sneezed at for Gregory Benford is, in his own right, well known as an astronomer. In short Eater has all the right ingredients in plot, author SF credibility and author scientific background to be a stonkin good book, a proverbial SF masterpiece, and real humdinger of a read. To be fair, it does in part work: it is a fairly good read. However, to be equally fair to Benford's regulars, this is a seriously flawed work with quality control apparently left to fend for itself at the kerbside.

The flaws are all small, in that you have to be in the know to recognise them, but when you do, boy do they stand out. First off, one of the leading protagonists is English. Now I know that Benford has met Brits -- for one we were both on a panel Worldcon panel together in 1996 -- but clearly he has no understanding for what makes Brits tick. Secondly, he seems to think that we (Brit scientists) value the US getting the job done and view the UN as slow and cumbersome. Really? Now who was it that scuppered the Kyoto Climate Change Summit? Which nation was it that dragged its feet over the 1992 Biodiversity Convention? One could go on, but it would serve little purpose other than demonstrate that Benford (and who knows how many other Americans) appear to live in a different world from the rest of us. However, don't let this put you off. There really is a good story in here struggling to get out.

Jonathan Cowie

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