Anvil of Stars by Bear, Greg, 1992

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As sequels go, I think it's generally difficult to find one that outshines its predecessor. It seemed to happen a few times with films in the 1980's, what with The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and the like. But I generally feel less satisfied with a second novel and or movie than a first. One notable exception is Greg Bear's Anvil of Stars, a sequel to The Forge of God, which takes the story in a completely different direction, with only a hint of a shared world. Anvil of Stars gets 4.5 stars from me.

At its heart Anvil of Stars is a modern big space opera, without all the negative connotations that go along with that term. Sure, there is a ton of schlock and overwrought feelings in this book, but after a while they actually become acceptable, as the scope of the story is so amazingly huge, and they pretty much fade into the background noise of the story. The book begins with a short recap of the Forge of God: A group of self-replicating killer probes has descended upon and destroyed the Earth. We donít know where the probes came from, but before all is lost an alien intelligence known only as the Benefactors save a small part of humanity and begin remaking the faces of Mars and Venus for them. In this universe, there are essentially three types of civilizations. The first are the Killers, and they make and send out probes to kill other races before it can be done to them. The second are the Upholders of the Law, who mandate the destruction of all intelligences responsible for or associated with the manufacture of self-replicating and destructive devices. The third are races like ours, which are oblivious and innocent of all knowledge of how the Universe really works. Once the Earth is destroyed the Benefactors make a Ship of the Law, christened the Dawn Treader, to go out and pass judgment upon whoever sent the probes in the first place.

And that is the story this book tells. The Benefactors chose children to crew the Dawn Treader as any adult may have aged and died by the time the Killers are found and the Law can be enacted. As it so happens, the Crew believes that they have found the home system of the Killers within the first 5 or 6 subjective years of their voyage. The Children make some pretty big mistakes along the way, and sufficient numbers of them die because of those mistakes that what's left of their little society starts to pull itself apart with strain and stress. As the book progresses the power structures in the Dawn Treader are changed significantly, and another Ship of the Law merges with the Dawn Treader, and interspecies conflict only adds to the chaos.

There are two reasons I always love a Bear book. The first is character, as Bear really is second to none. Martin, the leader of the Children at the beginning of the book, is a very carefully crafted character and is quite believable. He is slow and methodical in his ways, but can be decisive when needed. He seeks to build consensus when he can, and despite some serious complaining by his shipmates about his ways he generally did just that. He has some pretty major faults too. For example, he has lots of self doubt which causes him to listen to some hare-brained ideas from other crew. He also had this silly way of falling in love with pretty much anyone he screws. Hans, the second leader after Martin, serves as an excellent foil, as he is strong headed, gung-ho, is out for blood, and genuinely likes casual threesomes.

The second reason Bear always delivers for his descriptions of technology. Calling this book hard sci-fi may confuse some, as the science does not seem to be related to anything I have ever heard about, but the book certainly feels that way. In this novel Bear adds significantly to the "noach" technology that one finds in so many of his early books, and seems to wind down in Moving Mars.

There is also lots of internal conflict here too. The Children on the ship never really have trusted the Benefactors. They think that the Benefactors are withholding knowledge, and consider that humans are barely evolved simians that will eventually become Killers themselves. When the two Ships of the Law merge it is learned that the new race, the Brothers, have access in their Ship's memory to quite a bit more scientific information. On top of that, during the final battle the Ship comes up with some weapons that require massive intellectual leaps to devise, but tells the Children it came up with them after observing the enemy's technology. Its all very difficult for the children to swallow, and really adds to the sense of hopelessness, in that if the children canít even depend of the Benefactors, how will they ever destroy the near invincible enemy? In fact, with so much conflict coming from so many different directions, Bear refers to the situation as a "camouflage upon a masquerade upon a deception." The children never get to the bottom of it, but its pretty obvious that they are tools as much as they are decision makers.

There are a lot of other interesting things to talk about in this book. For example, Bear mixes quite a few stories from childhood (The Narnia Chronicles, Peter Pan) along with some fascinating original parables and fables. I suppose one of the themes of this book is the pain of growing up, even if it is examined in a pretty extreme situation. Bear also takes a crack at crafting a new religion, with mixed results. In any event, this book is an excellent stand-alone read, or can be read with its predecessor, The Forge of God.

Copyright © 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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