Millennial Review IX: Eon by Greg Bear (1985)
By Greg Bear
Who is Carol Russo? She seems to do a lot of cover design.
Synopsis: It’s December 2000 and a 300×100 km potato-shaped asteroid is going into close but eccentric orbit around Earth.
Hop forward to 2005. The Stone [as the Americans call it] is now being explored by an international team, with the US controlling access to the more potentially disruptive sources of information about the Stone. The Stone is from a future, although perhaps not this world’s. It was built by the distant descendents of the people who survived the Death, a major nuclear war scheduled for the near future. Having already lived through a minor nuclear war in the early 1990s, nobody wants to see the real thing and to this end, the US restricts the flow of information to everyone else, greatly enhancing paranoia levels.
Patricia Vasquez is recruited for a mission to the Stone since some of her recent work appears to have a bearing on what they have found in the Stone. Beyond the living quarters, there is an apparently infinite tube not apparent from the outside of the Stone. The former inhabitants of the Stone appear to have left the Stone into the Way, as the tube is called. Some exploration occurs but before anything useful can be done to prevent the Death, it is triggered by a Russian attempt to take the Stone away from the US. Billions die. Most of the attacking Russians do as well, leaving the surviving people on all sides in the Stone to try to survive together, since the Earth is in no shape to take them home.
At the same time, the folks up the Way become aware that their old home has been invaded. They are having their own problems: their society is divided into Naderites, who take a dim view of high tech and Geshels [where is that title from, anyway?], who are very good at high tech. As well, alien Jarts have infested long sections of the Way and there is a division of opinion on the optimum strategy. The Way, it seems, can be used to access a very large number of alternate universe: its creation was what blew the Stone back in time into Eon’s universe.
Various faction fights, verbal and physical, occur. Mirsky, a Russian soldier, has a large bit of his head shot off by political officers and is rebuilt by the folks from the future, although not quite the same as before.
A break-neck pace conclusion occurs. Patricia ends up in an alternate universe working for the “20th century” Ptolomaic Egyptians [their dating system is very different from ours]. Mirsky and friends end up on the part of the Way city which ends up in the extreme distant future, having scooted down that way at 1/3 C to seal off the Jarts’ section of the Way. Everyone else ends up in the 21st Century, helping the Earth to recover from the Death.
This book reminds me of a beautiful movie with magnificent imagery and no logic. This is a book meant to be read quickly and not thought about afterwards because it all falls apart if you do. Take the Stone for example: it’s a large asteroid, and its closest approach to the Earth is 10,000 km as it orbits the Earth. The peak tidal forces it causes on the Earth are 10x the current lunar tidal forces. The tides the Earth causes on ‑it- are up to 55,000x times the forces the Earth causes on the Moon. Is this a wise orbit? Perhaps the magic doohickies in the Stone will protect it but is it polite to cause massive tidal flooding as a side effect of a parking orbit?
The Stone spins fast enough to provide around 60% of a gee acceleration in the living habitats. The Stone is also so similar to its initial configuration that the 21st Century folks can identify which asteroid it will have used to have been from photos. Rock does not have a high tensile strength. The Stone ‑should- fly apart.
I also find it hard to believe that a culture which can send a ship that large to the nearer stars, which can build a propulsion system which can put out at least 1016 watts, if not much higher, which has magic inertial dampening systems, would settle on the Stone as the optimum solution: by the time it gets where it going, the target system should be swarming with superior ships designed in the centuries since the Stone launched. I also think using moon-sized generation ships to look for Earth-like worlds should at least be supplemented with an advanced observation program from Sol, using the nifty large space based telescope tech we can envision and which they should be able to build.
The book is full of moments like that. These are technologically advanced people but they are not terribly bright. The book would be much shorter if they were and the plot would make more sense but the nonsensical technology and settings are really very fantasitic, wonderful to imagine but ultimately empty.
Again, a future where space tech is much better than ours. Telescopy [is that a word] seems to be much more primitive, if there’s a net or web I missed it. The politics are recognizable, although I’d like to think the real politicians would, if presented with the same bleak near-future these folks were, hit a better solution than ‘Hide the truth from the people who will start WW IV’ because that seems intuitively counter-productive. Didn’t work, either.
1: Including a very brief moment where Bear channels a Poul Anderson “Liberals: Threat or Menace” speech. The problems the Soviets were facing are if anything understated.