Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 04 08:59:57 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #28

%T Rocheworld
%A Robert Forward
%I Baen Books
%D April 1990
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 558
%G 0-671-69869-9

No, this isn't the 60Kword Rocheworld serial from Analog, nor a reprint of the 1984 100Kword Flight Of The Dragonfly from Timescape, nor the 1985 110Kwd re-release from Baen; this is the all-singing, all-dancing 155Kword author-approved fusion-powered 1990 mega-edition -- and I wish I could manage not to wince and grit my teeth reading it.

As usual (i.e. as in his previous novels Dragon's Egg and Starquake) Bob Forward has a lot of nifty ideas; unfortunately, his prose is so leaden and his characters such an improbable collection of tissue-thin cardboard superpeople and far-too-humanlike aliens that I for one just cannot swallow the whole without gagging. More length has made the problem worse, which is a shame; the earlier versions squeaked in underneath my bad-writing tolerance, but the first hundred pages of this one ran right up agin' it.

However -- if you can persevere through these obstacles, you will have lots of fun with the laser physics and the Christmas Bush and the surfing aliens and all the other stuff Forward does so well. A quick teaser for those who missed it the first time around:

Sometime in the middle of the next century, the Prometheus sails to the stars on gossamer wings. Massive laser arrays in Sol System accelerate it by lightsail for a four-decade trip, with its crew of 20 kept on life-extension drugs that have the unfortunate side effect of reducing them to idiocy, and tended by watchful AIs. Though the mission is nearly scuttled by a bizarre medical crisis, the craft arrives safely at its destination -- Barnard's Star.

Previous lightsail probes had mapped the Barnard system, a circus of weird phenomena of which perhaps the oddest is Rocheworld. Two elliptical lobes tumble about a common barycenter, separated by barely 80km and sharing a single atmospheric envelope. The dumbbell-shaped gravitational field and ammonia/water oceans produce many truly weird planetographic effects, which Forward delightedly works out to a degree of precision that would bore anybody but an I'll-take-mine-with -rivets-thank-you hard-SF fan like me to utter distraction.

Then the fun really starts. For, of course, the hardy crew of the Prometheus discovers intelligent life. Actually, it's the computer on their exploration VTOL (Jill, a character rendered more three-dimensionally than most of the humans) who makes the discovery. These are the flouwen, multi-ton amorphous blobs who live for abstract mathematics and the Big Wave.

Sigh. I wish to hell Forward could write at least as well as, say, James Hogan or Ken Appleby (see RR#25). Because while you're trying to suspend disbelief and go for all this you're constantly getting flogged by characterization as painfully bad and cute as a pink tutu on a hippo. It's like every once in a while the author remembers that his talking heads are supposed to be people, so he has them coyly fuck each other. And the relationships don't make any sense....

Oh well, never mind. If you're the kind who gets off on explanations of how disequilibrated ammonia/H20 mixtures near their triple point can produce both underwater snowstorms and the raddest tubular breakers this side of Diamond Head, you'll eat this book up with a fork. If not -- well, don't say you weren't warned.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 04 08:59:57 EDT 1990

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