Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[REVIEW] Robert L. Forward, Rocheworld

Even science fiction fans have been known to call their favourite genre a "literature of ideas," as implicitly opposed to a "literature of style." Characters can be transparent; plots can be simple; the prose itself can be clunky. I'd like to think this is starting to change, but I've learned by now not to confuse likes with actualities. I think.

When I saw Robert L. Forward's 1985 novel Rocheworld at the BMV in the Annex, I had to buy it. At $4.19, it was quite inexpensive, but more to the point Rocheworld has been one of my favourite science fiction novels since I was an adolescent, maybe even before adolescence. Re-reading it after a decade, I'm pleased to find that my memories hold true.

Rocheworld is not high literature. The characters lack much depth, with their likes and dislikes being superficial and a somewhat surprising lack of conflict (and not unsurprising hookups between multiple couples) prevailing throughout, with the singular exception of a bitter senator and his proxy crewmember, the former eventually relenting and giving the central character George Gudunov his general's star and the latter being replaced by a Mexican geologist working on Titan even before the light-sailed STL starship leaves Sol system. The Barnard's Star system is full of wonders, explored in this book and its sequels, with ubiquitous life and interesting challenges which are never lethal. It would be harsh to describe this book as all setting, but not too harsh.

But what a setting! The laser-propelled solar sail interstellar craft--a propulsion method that Forward himself designed, and remains plausible to this day--is superb. The Barnard's Star planetary system, notwithstanding the confirmation a decade after the fact that Barnard's Star can't host the near-brown dwarf Gargantua, is well-designed and interesting, so much so that I wish that Forward was right. The titular Rocheworld, a very close binary of two rocky worlds so near each other that they share an atmosphere and ocean in common, is a remarkable construct. And the life in the oceans of Rocheworld, including the intelligent flouwen (calling them brilliant shapeshifting jellyfish known for their loves of mathematics and surfing wouldn't be inaccurate), is interesting. Forward's world is well-designed indeed.

Most importantly to me, Forward's universe is fundamentally optimistic in a way I find quite cheerful. People mean well and do their best; reason and patience allow for the anticipation of problems and effective responses; effort can yield positive results. And if Forward's characters can do this, and if we can do this, then we can all enjoy a universe full of wonders and delights. Yes, it's a great way to educate people in science, but it's also a great thing to read when you''re down or concerned.

Yes, we can.
Tags: book reviews, books, reviews, science fiction, space science
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