- Pohl, Frederik — Gateway (278 pages)
- Clement, Hal — Mission of Gravity (193 pages)
- Benford, Gregory — Timescape (499 pages)
Page count: 970 of targeted 12,500.
(I actually finished this on Wednesday, but I've been too tired/busy/lazy—I believe the correct phrase might be "otherwise occupied"—to log it. Not that when I read or log it really matters to anyone but me, of course.)
After Mission of Gravity I was prepared to abandon "hard" science fiction. Clement had me believing that reading about science just is not my thing.
But Benford reminded me that I am a silly, silly man. I love reading about science when it is well written. The problem with Mission of Gravity wasn't all that writing about science; the problem was simply that the author did not do a particularly good job crafting all that writing about science.
Hell, I grew up reading Sagan and Asimov and Hawking and other "science for the non-scientist" authors in between turns with the Tolkien and the L'Engle and the Crichton—and far more of the former group than the latter. Science, done correctly, with attention to detail and correctness and an imaginitive eye for possibilities, is not the problem. I guess I needed Timescape to remind me. I'd been looking forward to reading it for some time, and I'm glad I didn't allow my experience with Mission of Gravity to turn me away.
The things I ask of a good book are that it ask thought-provoking questions and that it entertain me. I think this is why I count Ursula Le Guin and Graham Greene amongst my favorite authors. Benford certainly met my criteria. His descriptions of the science (and pseudoscience) were fascinating. He incorporated enough physics, biochemistry, mathematics, and other scientists to keep "it" real and make the pseudoscience sound plausible, but not so much that one would need a specialized degree to understand it. And he asked important questions that are still relevant both in the worlds of theoretical physics and of everyday life. Most importantly, Benford did not lose sight that he is, first and foremost, telling a story. His characters and interpersonal relationships are vividly drawn, and the plot is compelling.
Certainly, the story is not without flaws. Benford introduced more characters than were necessary to telling the story, and I often lost track of who was who amongst the minor characters. I understand he was painting a picture of the lives of typical scientists, and he succeeded in that, but sometimes the story felt like one of my posts: way more particulars than necessary. Had Benford lopped off a few characters and tangential storylines, the novel would have been stronger.
Still, Timescape was intelligently written, thought provoking, and entertaining, and that's all I ask.