Crystal Spheres by Brin, David, 1984

Crystal Spheres by Brin, David

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Far future, bittersweet colonization story. Upon the first interstellar mission hundreds of years ago, mankind learned that the entire solar system was enclosed in a globe of crystal outside of the Oort cloud. The first mission out badly fractured the sphere which caused billions of comets to fall towards the sun, impacting the Earth so badly for two hundred years that mankind almost died out. When the carnage was over ships were sent out to search for suitable colony planets, but every yellow sun that was orbited by a suitable planet was also encased in a crystal sphere. Humans learned that the spheres could be pierced from the inside, at great risk of course, but from the outside they were opaque to transmissions of any kind, and that any object that approached would be encased in water and turned into a comet.

As the story begins the Earth is so overpopulated that humans have to be frozen and awakened in shifts to live their lives. There is taboo against reproduction, and most humans have been conditioned to prevent that. Joshua, a deep space explorer, has just awakened with a planet full of other people. They are wandering the planet, trying to find out what has changed since they were put to sleep millennia ago. As Joshua began to think about what he would do with his new life, his wife Alice visited him and brought news that a remote probe had found an Earth-type planet around a sun with a smashed sphere. This is momentous news, not only because of the potential for more elbow room, but because mankind's forward view is starting to slip, mostly out of boredom and loneliness. The journey to the new planet takes years, but when they arrive they find a system empty of intelligent beings, but full of advanced engineering. There are perfectly preserved cities on the ground, for example, and all two million of the asteroids of any size are habitable, and in perfect orbits. The scientists revive the ten thousand colonist corpsicles and waste no time preparing their new home for millions more. But they never stop wondering who left this perfect system for them all. After a few years of searching they find an obelisk that tells them the story of a race called the Natura. They were similar to humans in size, shape, outlook and technology. They discovered their own sphere when their first interstellar colony mission departed, and the resulting meteor shower almost killed their race too. But when they out they found the remnants of another civilization on a planet that orbited another sun with a broken sphere. That race was gone too, and they had left in perfect condition the things that they had built, and inherited from a race that broke out if its own sphere before them, and died before they came along. All in all the Natura left six perfectly engineered and protected worlds for us, and an apology for not being able to stay around to meet us.

As silly as this sounds, its hard to figure out how absurd Brin meant to be with this story. It feels like hard SF because he tried to explain everything, such as how Haley's comet, or any object for that matter, could get through the sphere. Objects going into the system were killed upon contact with the surface of the sphere, then covered in water and turned into a comet. That certainly explains how the comet entered on its 76 year journey around the sun, but he never bothered to tell us how it got out. He did say that objects could penetrate the sphere from the inside, but that would destroy the sphere and comets would rain down. How did Haley's comet, and others, get out? Of course the idea of a selectively permeable crystal membrane surrounding every star with a yellow sun, and no other suns, but only if it had a water heavy planet, is pretty absurd. Other than that, and a few methods of interstellar travel, Brin was quite realistic. If you can get past all of that, the story is about altruism. The Natura left us everything we would need to thrive and spread out, and gave us hope for at least a time that another race would penetrate its own sphere and join us.

Copyright 2009, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 5 star(s)

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