Review of Eon (1985)


Greg Bear (writer).

Read in 2021.

In 2005, scientists exploring a refitted ancient generational ship discover in its libraries that a second nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact is imminent.

A much denser, post-New-Wave reimagining of Rendezvous with Rama (1973). It’s almost a Neuromancer (1984) for grand relativistic space adventures, naturally a lot smarter than Do You Remember Love? (1984) and stretching from what is now a “worlds behind you” alternative Cold War future to a society 1200 years after that and then back to a closing scene in an alternate history where the Macedonian-Egyptian empire invented airplanes.

The vision is gorgeous, especially from the vaguely Lovecraftian dark enlightenment of the opening mysteries to the apocalypse and on to the fate of Mirsky. The long portion set in the Hexamon is comparatively weak, lacking truly substantive cultural change and handwaving the underdevelopment of the differences that do exist as an effort to protect visitors from future shock. It is a fun detail that Konrad Korzenowski, the future genius who refitted (will refit, from the perspective of his mentor, the novel’s protagonist) Juno on its way to another solar system, is himself subjected to future shock upon his resurrection in a still-later future. It’s future shock all the way down, albeit in a more muted register than Schismatrix (1985).

Like Brunner in Stand on Zanzibar (1968), Bear is not afraid to date his future world by referring to future fashions, but Bear kept a slightly larger buffer. The “height of 2005 fashion” is loose shag hair, a cardigan sweater with a fob (chain) hung from a hemline pocket in the sweater to a belt loop in a pair of baggy pants, and finally Japanese tabi socks in huarache (pre-Columbian sandals). Not quite right, in retrospect. There was also no “Little Death” nuclear exchange in 1993, two years after the Warsaw Pact would collapse, but I think the Cold War turned hot is well done.

The science fiction gradually gets softer, culminating in the ritualistic use of a hypertech “clavicle” to open a gate to another universe, its properties selected intuitively, as by magic. The character writing is weak, though mainly in its lack of distinction. No individuals stand out more than Mirsky—who sees the most development—and Gary Lanier. The latter’s mind is ultimately strained—Lovecraft-style—to the point of escape into a form of useless Christian mysticism. Religious themes elsewhere are thankfully perfunctory, but I’m OK with his end state. Unfortunately, Lanier is also an author stand-in who gets to have sex with all three of the most prominent female characters, including Farley, who keeps spouting unlikely malapropisms for cuteness, and even Vasquez; the latter sex scene is egregiously implausible, and self-consciously so.

Though it is neither hard SF nor unusually well written in the normal sense of beautiful language and rounded characters, Eon is densely packed, clearly intelligent extrapolative science fiction, both bold and intricate, with a strong sense of wonder that does not reduce to mere spectacle.

References here: Ender’s Game (1985/1991), Altered Carbon (2002), Pushing Ice (2005), Altered Carbon (2018), Dune (2021).

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