May 24, 2004

Benford's Books

Reading Niven's work lately brought to mind another similar author I've enjoyed before, Gregory Benford. I've read some of his books, and the sad truth is that the one I enjoyed the most is thought by most people to be one of his worst. It is called "Artifact". The idea is that a strange cube-like artifact is discovered in an ancient tomb. It's surface is like nothing ever seen before (and it's got a big horn sticking out of one side), and various scientific measurements of the thing turn up some really weird facts that all fall together neatly as the main characters figure out its purpose. Like Niven's "Ringworld", the book has a fairly thin plot with some pretty ridiculous characters and situations, but the science, the mystery, the discovery, the investigation are really cool. What's better is that this is set closer to present-day, so it is a little easier to suspend disbelief.

Another work of his that I enjoyed was a series that begins with "In the Ocean of Night", This actually works ok as a stand-alone, and if you like it, you can continue with the even better sequel, "Across the Sea of Suns". The story begins with a comet whose course changes somehow so that it threatens Earth. Scientists, including one of my favorite all-time characters, Nigel Walmsley, travel to the comet and discover an interesting secret that unlocks a neat future for Earth (the story is sort of a "first contact" situation with a detailed and unpredictable history of the decades that follow).

The problem with this series is that it basically completely changes into something else (and something much worse) starting in book 3, with a story and characters almost completely unrelated to the first two books. It's like a different series they sold under the series name "The Galactic Center" just to sell some crap, and the books were written many years apart. By the time we see people from the first two books again, it is book six, and that book was dreadful.

The only other thing I've read by Benford is one lots of people point to as their favorite, and it is called "Timescape". The idea is that some scientists in the year 1998 find out they can send messages 35 years into the past (the book was written in 1979), but they aren't sure exactly what gets through, who sees it, what will happen if a paradox is generated, etc. Very interesting premise, but Benford only had enough material for a short story here. Some stupid editor allowed him to expand it out into a novel, and it was boring as all hell. It's funny, because people say the same thing about "Artifact", that it is a good idea bloated, but I liked the bloat for some reason in that one.

Posted by Observer at May 24, 2004 08:08 AM
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