Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Mar 07 12:26:08 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #24

%T The Voice of Cepheus
%A Ken Appleby
%I Del Rey/Ballantine
%D Dec 1989
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 267
%G 0-345-36269-1

This first novel is SF the way they used to write 'em -- the Idea As Hero, hardware sticking out every which way but loose, damn the characterization and full speed ahead. One imagines the ghost of George O. Smith hovering benignly over the author's shoulder.

This sort of thing only works if you've got at least several mind-bending ideas to wrap your plot around, and have the training to follow out the implications with the fanatical logic and precision of a design engineer. There's a strong tendency for the prose voices of such authors to all sound the same, as crisp and mechanical as one of their gedankenmachines. Which explains why you're likely to need to pinch yourself and check the cover of this one twice to rid yourself of the delusion that you're reading a James Hogan or Robert Forward novel. But no; that's Appleby, A-p-p-l-e-b-y.

The Voice Of Cepheus is a first-contact novel. As it begins, a near-future SETI project picks up an intense "attention signal" from the constellation Cepheus. They deduce that is a pointer to another transmission, much fainter but carrying millions of bits of encoded information. The second message turns out to be a physics text which implies instructions on how to build an FTL communicator. This is when the fun really starts, as our protagonists must intrigue to prevent the great-power governments from monopolizing the signal and abusing the Cepheans' information for political purposes.

Once that challenge is met, the greater one of building and testing the "gecom" must be met. There is drama in deep space as the first attempt nearly destroys the experimental team; and a greater mystery afterward once they make contact. For no one can say for sure what the Cepheans' motives in building their beacon were -- and the man who began the whole sequence believes they are hiding a dangerous truth.

Appleby's kind of writing is an acquired taste. If you liked Venus Equilateral and Flight Of The Dragonfly and The Genesis Machine you will eat it up like so much technofudge -- I did. You'll even laugh tolerantly at Appleby's lame attempt at romantic subplot. If, on the other hand, you don't like yours with rivets you'll find Voice to be just so much incomprehensible garble.

In sum, The Voice Of Cepheus gets the Raymond's Reviews Chrome-Plated Doohickey award for combining gloriously mind-boggling ideas with trite mechanical prose Just The Way They Useta Way Back When. You Have Been Warned -- but I hope we hear more from this guy, whether he "learns to write" or not!

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Mar 07 12:26:08 EST 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>