Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gaea: Beyond the Son - P D Gilson

From the cover, you'd think this was a spin-off novel from some all-new American sci-fi series - well-drawn but incredibly cheesy pictures of our favourite characters in a variety of action poses. There's no series as yet, but the truth is not too far off; apparently this is a new shared-world franchise known as the Gaea Universe, brought to you by new publishers Helios. The basic premise, as far as I could gather, is that of a near-future Earth where water resources are incredibly scarce; Earth's only hope is the Gaea Project, designed to use a distant watery planet for manufacturing water-purifiers. During the 6-month shakedown mission for Gaea-02's maiden voyage, Earth erupts in nuclear war, leaving the ship stranded in space. The crew decide that their best option is to continue the project regardless, even though this will mean abandoning Earth for many decades, and leaving behind their loved ones, including Our Hero's young son who he'd promised to return to...

This is all standard pulp stuff, but at first it didn't seem too badly written. A casually-dropped phrase about an "overstretched desalination plant" in Florida gave a good, concise show-don't-tell picture of Earth's water problems. Unfortunately this was undermined a few pages later with an extensive infodump telling us the same thing, and matters didn't improve from there. The prose rarely became actively bad, and in fact was pretty competent for the most part, but the dubious plot and the shoddy detail rapidly dragged the whole thing downhill.

Now, I'm no physicist or military tactician, but I've read enough SF to know when the science bit is being thoroughly bungled. You don't plan a twenty-year journey at .71C and not even bother to mention time dilation. You don't send a trained crew and billions of dollars' worth of space equipment on a twenty-year mission without first checking that your experimental cryogenic system works properly. You don't plan the exploitation of a brand-new planet without even considering the possibility that it may be inhabited, and arming your crew accordingly (it wasn't, but that's not really the point). You don't land on said planet, breathe the air and drink the lovely clean water without first testing it. And, while we're about it, how come this barren ice world has a breathable atmosphere? It's like an episode of 60's Star Trek; all we're missing is the bouncing boulders. Some of the errors may well have crept in through the gap between the book's author and the franchise creator, but a bit of fact-checking or just basic common sense would not have gone amiss.

If it weren't for a couple of minor giveaways (the blasé attitude to satellites, for example), I'd have no trouble believing that this had been written anything up to 50 years ago. The racial stereotypes are awful - the two white, English-speaking men are heroic pilots; the Japanese girl is a spiky-haired robot-building manga chick; the non-English speakers are flaky and untrustworthy; the black guy is hulking, silent and obedient. Not to mention the fiendish Chinese enemies, armed with their dragon-handled knives. In the traditional mould, our hero is the only one of his monumentally stupid crew who has any idea what's going on, as they bumble through one set-piece after another, in a disjointed plot that ends in a clumsy resolution. The Gaea Universe is going to have to do rather better than this if they want the franchise to take off.



Blogger Chris Billett said...

Crikey - I was busy chuckling away at your Goodkind gags (after searching for something to take the piss out of him with) when I noticed you 1. live right by me (awesome) and 2. read authors who are fantastic (Duncan, Bakker, etc).

Keep up the cool. I'll bookmark.

1:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading a bunch of positive reviews elsewhere, I read this book and rather enjoyed it. It's not hard SF by any means, an adventure I'd call it.

I'm not sure if you just skimmed it, but you seem to have got a lot of the facts wrong. This struck me as rather odd as the things you described were not in the book I read. I'm looking at it in front of me, and I can tell you:

1) "You don't send a trained crew and billions of dollars' worth of space equipment on a twenty-year mission without first checking that your experimental cryogenic system works properly. " The characters were not leaving on a twenty year mission at all. They were on a six-month test flight of the experimental spaceship. Then the you-know-what hits the fan and they have to make do with the prototypes they have on hand. This is one of the aspects I liked most in the novel.

2) Arming the crew? See #1.

3) "You don't land on said planet, breathe the air and drink the lovely clean water without first testing it." They do test it, right here on page... 149. They even comment that the Nitrogen content is slightly lower.

4) It also mentions time dilation. I remember being fascinated by the hibernation concept, I double-checked and when referring to the period of time they have been asleep, the character adds, "accounting for relativity." Having said that, whether an adventure novel does or does not include "real world" physics makes no difference to me (some of the most enjoyable SF has nonsense physics), but at least it gives a nod.

5) Your racial comments are baffling, I had a completely different reading of them and found the multicultural crew refreshing. Of the three white males, one is a coward and another is a jerk, the Arab was the most sensible, the Japanese woman the bravest, the Hispanic men were heroes, and the "black guy" (my favorite character!) is not what I would call obedient in the slightest. I can think of two or three occasions that he disobeyed direct orders (for good reason, which endeared him to me). I can't comment on the rest here for fear of spoiling the story... although I guess this review is pretty old now, so no one will read this comment anyway!

I've enjoyed some of your reviews and have picked up some nice gems because of them, so apart from the corrections, just take this as another opinion. Thanks! -Marat

6:21 am  
Anonymous AussieNik said...

Got to agree with the previous comment. I thought the book was fantastic and the review seemed to judge it by its cover (which was another "huh?" because I love it).

Anyway, it left me hanging for a sequel so I hope one comes someday - I was googling around (how I saw this review - only bad one I found btw) but can't see anything.

8:29 pm  

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