Griffin's Egg by Swanwick, Michael, 1991

Griffin's Egg by Swanwick, Michael

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I personally go back and forth on whether Michael Swanwick is one of the SF greats. He is one of better hard SF authors out there, because he has great skill at writing real characters with real motivations as well. Hes also not afraid of taboo subjects in SF, such as sexuality, and generally has pretty good plot ideas. This book has an incredible setting as well, and while the social message of the story is a little lacking (or at least, is not presented clearly), the other literary elements will keep the reader's interest up.

Griffin's Egg is set on the Moon in the near future. In this story most of the Earth's heavy industry has been moved to the Moon, and as a result the Moon is quite polluted. Not many people care very much about that as the Moon, of course, has no biosphere to wreck. The novel begins as the main character, Gunther Weil, has been dispatched by his corporate employer to assist in the clean up of a power plant meltdown. The team he is a member of elects to deal with the radioactive soil by using a "remote," or human controlled machine to place a powerful backpack nuke in the crater which causes the tainted soil to collapse in upon itself after detonation. Thereafter the problem is ignored, save for over flights to be rerouted.

The real action of the story starts when a nuclear war begins on Earth. The war starts because everyone has put doomsday safeguards that automatically retaliate whenever attacked. Nobody ever figures out who started the war, but nobody had to take blame for escalation because it was the automatic systems that got the war going. Part everyone's strategy was to destroy lunar industrial capacities so that nobody would be able to replenish armaments, which was one of the Moon's major products. One of the warring factions wound up using a biological weapon in the Moon's main city, Bootstrap. The weapon was the result of a lunar research groups attempts to tame the inquisitiveness and violence of the human mind. Through chemical means the weapon produced a pure stream of thought that was in unencumbered by human fears and emotions. The military got hold of the program and had them engineer another device that made everyone go schizophrenic when attacked. When the weapon was released significantly more than one-half of the Moon's workers and governors turned schizophrenic immediately, which really added to the damage. After the war ended the Moon was cut off completely and had to find a way to salvage the infrastructure that was repairable before everyone died. A surviving member of the military took over the lunar government, but before too long the rabble started to chaff at the bit and threatened revolt, while certain members plotted to expose the schizophrenic, or "flicks" to vacuum and save the scarce resources for the unaffected.

Swanwick really has created something pretty good here. He has a deceptively simple writing style that allows him a lot of time and space to branch off onto tangents, though here I think he wandered a bit too far afield. The book is full of side adventures and is also thoroughly filled with philosophical and practical discussions about what to do about the main plot problems. What I think Swanwick is dealing with here is the difference between the animal and the intelligent mind, and posits that especially in times of stress there may not be many differences in the goals of either. Swanwick seems to be saying that the roles we allow others to set for us, and which we self-define, really create a kind of urban jungle, and the perceived differences in power we see all around us drive us to violence out of fear. I have always said that one of the unique attributes of the genre is that it tends to push authors to use very extreme situations to examine whatever themes they have focused on. Swanwick here has picked a very interesting insular population to use for examining the animal/intellectual dichotomy, and as is typical for SF, uses the ultimate stress of a nuclear war to really ramp up the fear. Unfortunately this novella is pretty busy, and I think that the impact of the meta-message is lost for that reason. In other words, the adventure and the character development more than the social commentary make this a worthy book to read.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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