Book Review: Eon, by Greg Bear

cover_eonOn Christmas Eve In the year 2000, a very strange thing happens. A huge asteroid following a trajectory from deep space enters our solar system and settles into orbit around Earth. Teams from an assortment of nations travel to the asteroid and discover several even stranger things:

1. The asteroid is hollow.

2. The asteroid is larger on the inside than the outside. A corridor runs through its heart that seems to be, for all intents and purposes, endless.

3. The asteroid appears to have been colonized at some time in the distant past and is partially terraformed.

4. There is some unsettling evidence that the colonists were from Earth. Future Earth.

Meanwhile, the longstanding Cold War between America, Russia, and their respective allies is about to become very, very hot. The survival of mankind may hinge on unlocking the asteroid’s secrets in a hurry, but something, or someone, is guarding those secrets—a ghostly presence of immense power, hovering at the edge of perception, intentions unknown.

***

Greg Bear is one of my favorite writers. I can always count on him to deliver a solid science fiction story weighted toward the science side of the house. Eon, however, is showing its age a bit. All speculative fiction assumes a risk that, at some point in time, it will become what we in the Air Force used to call OBE—“overcome by events.” Eon was written in 1985, when the Cold War’s threat of nuclear annihilation was still looming ominously over our future, six years before the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall was hammered into fist-sized souvenir chunks. Bear’s social projections seem naive and clichéd in retrospect, though I doubt many people would have found them unreasonable at the time.

Eon is one of Bear’s early works, and it’s fun to watch him tinker with some of his apocalyptic ideas about humankind and a diaspora into space that will blossom powerfully later in novels like The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars. While he weaves a dizzying web of space-and-time-travel paradoxes in Eon, he struggles with the more subtle complexities of human identity and emotion, leaving us with characters that are workmanlike, but flat. Likewise, his speculations regarding human biotechnical evolution feel at once too alien and not alien enough. He probes the human equation and the unintended consequences of meddling in our own biology with greater impact in stories like Blood Music and, most poignantly, in his novella, “Sisters,” which you ought to seek out and read soon, if you haven’t already.

My biggest challenge with Eon was Bear’s pacing. He takes a long time to get things moving aboard his enigmatic asteroid, and the many pages employed to describe and explain it left me begging for something, anything to happen within this tour de force of worldbuilding. I can’t blame him too much for falling in love with his mind-blowing idea of infinity in an asteroid, but I think focusing on this particular rock so much that the characters seem to serve it in a supporting role hurts the story. There’s also some miring in semi-comprehensible alien politics that devolves into a lot of time spent avoiding a coherent explanation of what’s really driving the climactic conflict.

I’m not used to dragging myself through a Greg Bear tale, though it gained momentum toward the end. Perhaps I’ve become OBE myself.

Anyhow, Eon is a decent read, and particularly interesting for fans of Greg Bear, who will appreciate how he’s grown as a writer over the years.

Link to purchase Eon

Greg Bear’s webpage

>>This review is based upon a copy of the book I borrowed from my local community library, and I have not received any remuneration, special consideration, or promises of fame and fortune (like that’s ever going to happen) from the author or publisher. Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.<<

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