Strength of Stones is an early SF novel by Hard SF author Greg Bear, and one which I thought I'd read years ago. I have a paperback copy on my bookshelf so I thought I'd reacquaint myself with it. Only trouble is upon reading it I didnt recognise any of it! Now Bear is one of those authors I've enjoyed in the past-his 1985 novel Blood Music is a tour de force piece, real movie material if ever there was one! (some argue its an early example of cyber Punk but I 'm not sure).
Strength of Stones however is a different kettle of fish! It was written only 4 years before yet it couldnt be more different in style. Basically it concerns a planet that aeons ago was settled and colonised by various religious groups-Moslems, Christians, Catholics, etc. They named the planet God-Does-Battle and it features cities that are sentient and that can move around the planet. Years after they were created by the architect Robert Kahn, the cities kicked out the humans on the ground they were unclean,impure; humans engaged in procreation and the computers that controlled the cities considered that a weakness, a failing. It all sounds good but well I struggled halfway through. The book has no chapters in the normal sense-it is divided into 3 parts, Part One, called Mandala, 3451 A.D., introduces some of the characters. Then after 54 pages and 10 years Part One ends and Part Two begins, new characters with no real explanation as to what happened to what I thought was the main character! Then follows a long mission to find out what happened to the cities, why the people were thrown out etc, and just who this Robert Kahn was. Then the next part begins 100 years later and that first 'main character' returns. That kind of left me scratching my head and I had to check the timeline again to make sure I'd read the dates right! This was undoubtedly a good story, full of big ideas, but well, the religion got in the way for me and when the book ended I was left thinking, what just happened?!
As I said earlier I've read and enjoyed quite a few Greg Bear books-he's one of the most highly regarded authors in the field (he's the nephew of Poul Anderson no less!) But I guess every author has an off day, and this was his! Plus it does date from 1981 and is only his second novel -before this one there is 1979's Hegira, another rites-of-passage tale on a strange world-and the first Bear book I read. (Near the start I mentioned that I didnt recognise the events in the book-I must have borrowed it from the library, tried to read it and lost interest!)
So if you've not read this author but would like to discover him ( a worthy exploit) I would recommend the afore mentioned Blood Music or Beyond Heaven's River. Many will say the Eon series but as I've yet to read those I cant comment. Oh and any fans of the Halo games might be interested to know that Bear has a novellisation planned for 2011!
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