Eon, by Greg Bear, a Book Review
“Eon”, a hard SF novel of the near future (and distant future at the same time ;-0) published in 1985 by Greg Bear, is an end of the world/first contact/BDO-BigDumbObject/time travel story that seeks to examine the possibilities of traveling between many parallel universes. For this reviewer the first 2/3s of the book worked, but the last 1/3 failed. In this review I will briefly summarize the story, compare it with other, similar, stories, and attempt to find the truths and lies of the worldview portrayed.
6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”
The Stone, or the Potato as the Russians called it, appeared in the year 2000, and though it had the shape of a familiar asteroid from the belt, its movements and earth orbit clearly were not natural. As the various space agencies explored it, they discovered it was hollow, and had been occupied. 300 km long by 100km wide this enigmatic BDO was a relic of somebody’s past, but earth’s future. Divided into 7 huge chambers, the Stone had cities, forests, lakes and rivers, but no visible occupants. The biggest mystery was not “where had they gone” but rather, why the 7th chamber had no end- the Stone was bigger on the inside than on the outside.
The novel begins with the politics of dealing with the Stone in the shadow of a limited nuclear war that had occurred a few years prior. The main characters are a 20 something math genius, Patricia Vasquez and her boss, Garry Lanier. The character development in both is very good throughout the novel as they both work to the point of exhaustion and nearly crack under the strain. The third main character is the Russian officer, Mirsky, who journeys from being a Russian soldier trained to kill Americans to gain control of the Potato, to an altered by aliens, resurrected man with a new found thirst for freedom and thought.
The story of exploring the Stone and the civilization left behind with Vasquez and Lanier is an outstanding adventure that comes close to Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”. It doesn’t come close to Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” however. “Eon” had potential, I wish that it was two books, and that the first volume gave us the entire story of discovery and exploration. Greg Bear’s ability to describe how the various chambers and cities and the corridor was not as convincing as Niven’s or Clarke’s, nor as artistic. The physical descriptions left me a bit unclear and confused at times, especially later, along the axis and at Axis City. For sheer excitement of exploring a BDO nothing beats Clarke’s “Rama” series and Allen Steele’s “Spindrift” is a close second.
What Bear does get right is the shock when Vasquez, and, later, Mirsky, learn in the Library that the Stone is from Earth’s future and that there are histories in the library that tell of the coming nuclear war. Bear very convincingly builds the tension as the date of the war arrives, and passes, giving you hope that the war can be avoided. But the war arrives anyway and the horror is made all the more intense because it was known in advance.
Knowing the future is a terrible burden. Garry Lanier had been weighed down for months because of the discovery of these histories. This is the strongest ethical dilemma that Bear gives us to ponder in the novel. What would have done, knowing that a nuclear war was GOING to break out? Again, however, the many ethical dilemmas given in the Rama series by Clarke and Lee are much deeper and are more thoroughly examined.
Many people state that they wish they knew what was going to happen next in their lives, but few, if any, are able to carry that burden. For the Christian who believes in the God of the Bible, we know that God is both omniscient and eternal and therefore knows the beginning from the end. Those of us who also believe in God’s sovereignty over time know that God does not merely know the future, he ordains it. Here is one the areas that theology meets physics and math, and here is where Bear missed an opportunity. Unlike Clarke and Lee in the Rama series, Bear doesn’t touch the theological issues that arise in his story. What a shame.
90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
As Patricia learns of the impending end of the world, a theme develops that will carry all the way through to the end of the book and her story: she wants to go home. In fact, there is one line in the book that mentions the Wizard of Oz and when you combine that with her constant longing to go back home, her dreamlike state, her youthfulness, you realize that Greg Bear was deliberately giving us an Oz experience. The only thing missing was a dog and a witch. But I digress…
This is where the main theme of the book begins: it is an investigation of the concept of there being multiple, parallel universes, an infinite number of parallel universe, and what would happen if you could move between them in time. The last third of the book is preoccupied with this theme and Bear goes into so much scientific and higher mathematics jargon and detail that it ruined the story for a layman like me. Math and science are the stuff of SF I know, but this just did not work. The overall theme and the BIG question I liked, but as a story…not so much.
The political intrigue in the first third of the book was quite good, and really left me wanting more than was given. Here I would give the advantage to Bear over Clarke in his original Rama, though the later volumes written with Gentry Lee were better in this one area. Bear should have given us more in regards to the Russian mole and a bit more of the earth side politics. He did very well with the infighting amongst the Russians once they were inside the Stone; that was very realistic.
Bear excelled when he gave us the battle for the Stone. This is clearly one of the best military SF battle sequences ever. From the chilling accounts from the sea battles on earth to the gory battle in the bore hole dock area to the paratroopers dropping into the various chambers, this was an outstanding space battle that had the ring of truth. He could have done better, though, by using some of the tricks that Orson Scott Card used in “Ender’s Game”.
Overall, the plot works despite the difficulties of the last 1/3 of the book. It is a good story told well, but does not approach the level of a classic such as Ringworld or the Rama series.
The worldview that is portrayed is, like most SF, almost totally without religion. The view of man is very realistic in that it shows that, despite evolution (?) or deliberate genetic manipulation and augmentation, man remains flawed. There are lies, conspiracies, and rebellion even in the magical kingdom of Oz, Axis City. The approach to sex is casual, in that the sex scenes are between people who are not married, nor necessarily even committed to one another. Only one scene has enough details to earn an “M” rating, the others are PG. Marriage finally enters the book in the closing chapters.
How would I rate this book? In comparison to the Rama series and the Ringworld series I would put this one somewhat ahead of Ringworld in some ways, but behind in others…even though I acknowledge that Ringworld is a “Classic” and Eon isn’t, I personally enjoyed it just as much as Ringworld…but untimately it has to come in behind Niven’s work. I would rate Eon above Ringworld Engineers, however. Rama is at the top of my list. I don’t think any series or book will beat out the Rama series. Eon is a good book with a great idea in the first 2/3rds that should have been expanded. If you are strong in math and physics, maybe the last 1/3 will be more interesting to you than it was for me.
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”