Book Review, Science Fiction

Book Review: The Forge of God by Greg Bear

I recently traveled to the New York City area to visit family and friends, and since I knew I would be spending many hours on trains, I went to the library and browsed for paperback novels to while away the travel hours. I enjoy good, classic Science Fiction and Fantasy and I decided to borrow The Forge of God by Greg Bear. I’m glad I did, because it is a haunting novel that is both entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

The Forge of God begins with an idyllic scene in which now-retired government scientific adviser and astronomer Arthur Gordon is enjoying some private time with his family: his wife Francis, his son Marty, and their Labrador Retriever, Gauge.  His idyllic retreat is shattered when then unthinkable happens: one of Jupiter’s moons is missing. He is quickly summoned by the president by this and another event, the finding of an alien in Australia – and another in the United States – and a series of other global events that point to something sinister unfolding that threatens the entire world.

I was drawn very quickly into the engaging characters. They’re likable and realistic without being overly scientific or sentimental. Arthur’s best friend, another scientist named Harry, is diagnosed with leukemia, and this plot twist, while at first seeming inconsequential, becomes one of the emotional touchstones of the novel.

The point of view shifts among various groups of characters. The next group consists of geologists on holiday in Death Valley. They discover a lava cone where none is marked on the U.S. Geological maps….and then they discover an alien, hiding near the lava cone, begging them for shade. The scientists bring the alien to the local town so that they can call the authorities, only to find themselves embroiled in this new, shattering discovery. For the alien brings bad news…very bad news indeed.

It seems that the Earth’s days are numbered. Another alien force, called the Planet Eaters, has decided to consume Earth and use it for fuel.

While all of this is going on, three more aliens (robots) appear in Australia. The book is a little slow to get started, but quickly the pace builds. Each alien group appears different, but are they the same? Why does one group bring glad tidings, the other frightening apocalyptic tidings? Should the nations of Earth destroy the aliens — and can they?

The novel brings up several great points that make you think. Themes throughout the novel include the Earth as an integrated whole, a cosmos unto itself, with every life form contributing; the idea of interconnected worlds; the ideas of Law and Order, and of judgment and punishment.

It quickly becomes clear in the novel (and I’m not spoiling anything by sharing this) that the Earth cannot be saved. But the beings of Earth can, and that is when the novel really gets going as Arthur and several other characters work with a group of alien life forms to salvage what they can from Earth before it is too late.

The final scenes of the Earth being destroyed are so vivid, so painful that I can’t get them out of my head today.  Even though I know it’s science fiction, I keep looking around at my home, my family, my pets, my garden, thinking about the things I cherish and wondering what I would do if I lost them.

This book was written in 1987, before the advent of ubiquitous cell phones and pocket-sized computer links to the internet. Yet the book doesn’t feel dated. Although nowadays the geologists in Death Valley would have whipped out a cell phone and called someone, and in the book they had to drive to town to find a phone, it doesn’t feel dated because they are also trying to find medical help for the alien, who is very ill from the heat and sunlight.  There were a few other little points like this in the book, but for the most part, Bear’s use of technology makes the book feel like it could be taking place today. He actually sets it in 1996-1997, but it really does feel as if it is happening now.

I found out while looking for more information on the author that this has become a series. I ordered the second book in the series today and can’t wait to read it.  Greg Bear might become my new favorite science fiction author.

I highly recommend The Forge of God and give it 4 1/2 stars out of 5.


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