The World Eaters

The Forge of God by Greg Bear (1987): Bear’s apocalyptic alien-invasion novel stands in the first rank of novels in that sub-genre. It’s a page-turner, light on its feet for a nearly 500-page novel without sacrificing characterization or an exploration of society and individuals under pressure.

And the science is plausible for its time (and pretty much still ours). One of the pleasures of ‘hard’ science fiction lies in the attention to scientific detail. Bear augments this with an attention to sociological detail: the alien invaders have been watching humanity for awhile, and they enjoy playing mind games with humanity while the doomsday clock counts down.

Bear’s narrative hits the ground running, as one of the protagonists (an American scientist) learns that one of Jupiter’s moons has vanished. This causes something of a mainstream buzz for a short time, but Bear’s near-future world (our past, now — 1996-1998) has become as inattentive to astronomy as our world. The buzz dies. And then, in a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey, strange, seemingly alien artifacts are found in Australia, Death Valley, and Mongolia.

And then things start to get worse.

As in H.G. Wells’s seminal War of the Worlds, humanity here faces aliens who are far more technologically sophisticated. Wells’s aliens, though, had a pragmatic reason for their invasion: they were hungry. Bear’s aliens don’t have that motive. What is their motive? Why do they do the things they do? Read the novel to find out.

Bear gives us a sublime sense of scale that often isn’t there in apocalyptic novels, rendered with technical skill and not a little poetry: the science goes down smoothly and the enormity of the horrors visited upon the planet — and upon the deftly drawn characters of this novel — lingers in the memory. Highly recommended.

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